Happy Monday, everyone! I’m thrilled to see that my debut novel, Calmer Girls, has been reviewed by American writer and poet, Luanne Castle, on Goodreads and Amazon. This is something that never gets old for an author, and is especially appreciated when such a sparkling review is from an esteemed writer like Luanne. Have a […]Calmer Girls: a Book Review by Luanne Castle — Jennifer’s Journal
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While I rarely write about fiction, I do read a fair amount of the genre. Today I am sharing a review of a unique novel by blogger Anneli Purchase.
The engrossing story Julia’s Violinist, by Anneli Purchase, shows destruction by war through the eyes of one woman and her family. Julia is a Sudeten German, living with three million other ethnic Germans in what is now the Czech Republic. When Hitler’s Germany is defeated, suddenly Julia’s people are vulnerable. At the start of the story, Julia is a young widow with two daughters. Because she is a German woman amongst the Czechs, she is immediately thrust into danger. The Czech military wants to rid the country of the Germans, so they herd them into barracks where they are starved and many women raped. Julia manages to stay with her daughters, her parents, and one sister in the holding facility. She stays strong for the sake of the others, especially her daughters. Eventually Julia and her family move to Germany and from there to Canada.
Before I read this novel, I did not know about Sudetenland or Sudeten Germans, so I knew nothing of their plight when, first they were taken over by the Czechs after WWI, and then their country became Czechoslovakia after WWII. I had assumed that what is now the Czech Republic was always peopled by mainly Czechs. In a similar vein, until more recent years, although my maternal grandmother’s people emigrated from Prussia, I did not realize that Prussia was in what is now Poland or that all the ethnic Germans in Prussia were made to leave their homes after WWII. Their experience was similar to that of the Sudeten Germans. I have discovered that my accountant was a Sudeten German toddler when his family was made to live in refugee camps, just as Julia lived in the barracks, with little food. He told me that he did not have enough to eat at that age and that it affected his health.
Julia’s Violinist threads a love story throughout the historical tale. Although the story is not chronological, it is told in clearly-identified sections, so it is very easy to understand. This structure places the reader immediately in the dangerous world of post WWII, but then goes back in time to before the war, a time when Julia was just maturing and falling in love with Michael, a violinist, who also loves her. But his father dies as they are to begin courting, and Michael has to take over the family bakery. He has no time for dating. Julia’s life goes off in another direction when she marries and has children. But Michael will come back into her life. Read the book to find out what happens with the star-crossed lovers and to follow the twists and turns in the lives of Julia and her children.
Characters are so well-drawn. Julia is a very likable woman. She’s heroic, but also very human. Some of her decisions can be second-guessed, but considering her circumstances, they are understandable. I particularly admire the development of the complex and less-than-heroic character of Karl. I found myself trying to analyze him as if he were someone I knew in real life. When I finished reading the story, I felt as if I had to leave behind a hometown or community.
Although this is a minor point, the editing of Julia’s Violinist is impeccable, making it a special pleasure to read. Since Anneli Purchase is a professional editor, this makes sense. I am often sidetracked when reading by typos that I can spot at thirty paces, but this book is a smooth read. My deep involvement with the characters and their stories wasn’t broken by distractions.
Whenever I read a book from the perspective of someone from an overlooked group, I learn so much–and this novel is no exception. I feel privileged to have “met” Julia and her family.
GREAT NEWS. Anneli Purchase is offering a 99 cent sale on Julia’s Violinist and all her other books until the end of December.
I asked Anneli if she would please talk a bit about Julia’s Violinist. What she told me seems to explain why this book feels so important and so close to the heart of the writer.
When I was growing up, I often helped my mother in the kitchen. As we cooked and baked, my mother talked about “the old days” and I asked her many questions. She told me how the southeast part of Germany she lived in (Sudetenland) suddenly came under Czech rule with the stroke of a pen at the end of WWI. Three million Germans were to be ruled by a Czech government. When WWII came along, these people had hoped to shed the yoke of the oppressors, but as we all know, for better or worse, Germany lost the war.
As a child, I thought that this amazing story was one that happened only to my mother, that she and her family were the only ones who were driven out of their homes. But as I grew up and learned more about history, I realized that this was far more widespread than I had imagined. After the war, with the blessing of the Allies, the victors, especially the Czechs and Russians who had scores to settle, swarmed through Sudetenland, killing and raping thousands, and driving them out of their land.
Before, during, and after these atrocities were committed, the story of Julia takes shape. She is one person, but various versions of her story happened to hundreds of thousands at that time, and therefore, it needed to be told.
The story is fictional, but it is based on a lot of research, and while the personal story of Julia cannot be verified, I have tried to stay true to the historical facts as they happened then, hopefully without prejudice.
Anneli Purchase has lived and taught in various parts of British Columbia, including the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island where she works as an author and a freelance copy-editor. Her articles on coastal life have appeared in Canadian and UK magazines. She has published five novels (The Wind Weeps and its sequel Reckoning Tide, Orion’s Gift, Julia’s Violinist, and Marlie).
To find out more about Anneli’s novels, you can visit her website:
Anneli’s books will be on sale for 99 cents until the end of December. You can purchase Julia’s Violinist at amazon.com
If you don’t have a Kindle, you can go to smashwords.com for all types of e-reader formats.
All the happiest or most peaceful or satisfying holidays to you!!!
2021 is a weird writing period for me. I am awaiting presales of my new poetry book in May (release is scheduled for September 2022). I have sent out my memoir to see what happens to it. That will probably take a long time. Then I have 3 essays that are taking forever to be published–in fact, one of them, I don’t know if it will be published or not as I’ve lost contact with the journal’s editor. Maybe I should send the piece out again. I’ve been waiting on a few poem publications. And I stopped writing. That doesn’t usually happen to me.
I think it has to do with waiting on these books. I feel disoriented and unfocused.
Luckily, my creativity group is working on two books by Eric Maisel that I think will help. We are reading Unleashing the Artist and doing exercises in The Creative Workbook for Coaches and Creatives. For the first exercise, we listed all the creative projects that we have going on–either in process or imagined. Then we had to assign values as to how important they were. That was eye-opening. Give it a try!
I wrote a book review of a new poetry book this weekend and sent it off to a journal. And I have one more review I committed to for December. Then I have to say NO for awhile. I do not know how anybody can tackle NaNoWriMo in November because of the holidays. That blows my mind to even think about it! If you are doing it, you are probably not reading this right now.
Make it a good week, everyone!
I’ve been reading instead of writing lately. Today I want to share two of the nonfiction books I’ve enjoyed.
Book #1 is biographical and historical nonfiction based on the author’s family history.
A year and a half ago I reviewed Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. That book opened my eyes to the “home front” during WWII—what the war was like for some American families. Joy’s family, in particular, suffered great loss as three of her grandparents’ sons died in battle.
Joy has a new book out called Leora’s Dexter Stories. The subtitle, “The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression,” gives an idea of what story lies inside. It’s also an understatement. This book uses a variety of sources, such as journals and family stories to piece together a heart-breaking account of the poverty experienced by the Wilson family during the Depression.
Too bad this book can’t be required reading of every American and every student in American schools so that we learn not only what hardships people went through during that time but also how hardworking, clever, and resilient they could be. Our ideas of recycling and repurposing today are a joke compared with what Leora, Clabe, and their children did to survive. For awhile the only thing that kept them from being homeless was when the two oldest sons joined the Navy and sent money home to the family. The family endured criticism and gossip from others because of the need to sometimes be on a form of relief, although they worked very hard as tenant farmers or in other jobs. I managed to hold off crying until daughter Doris, Joy’s mother, an amazing basketball star, had to leave her full-scholarship business college because she couldn’t afford rent. This book is a powerful tribute to the Wilson family.
You can find Joy here: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM
Book #2 is a coming-of-age and family dysfunction memoir, set in Australia.
Australian Gwen Wilson, writer of the blog Garrulous Gwendoline, has published a memoir called I Belong to No One. On the cover it also reads: “One woman’s true story of family violence, forced adoption and ultimate triumphant survival.” I wasn’t sure what I would find when I started to read, but I was immediately hooked by Gwen’s storytelling voice. As you might expect from a woman who bills herself on WordPress as “garrulous” and says in the memoir that one of her favorite words is loquacious, Gwen’s voice expertly tells her story and imparts her personality. Her voice is strong, confident, and positive because so is the woman telling the story of her childhood and youth. She also comes across as humble and sincere. This is the successful, mature adult looking back at her upbringing. And while she was clearly always very emotionally strong and generally positive, she was not always confident because the life experiences she went through from a young age tried to grind her down. But Gwen didn’t let them keep her down. Whenever she could catch a lucky break, she would run with it. Finally, she caught one in the form of a job in the shipping world and was able to move forward with her adult life.
Nevertheless, with Gwen’s muscular and straightforward prose, the majority of the story details what she had to overcome. Legally, she was raised by a single, mentally ill mother who was not capable of parenting her. But in reality, Gwen was raised by her older brother Steve and a series of surrogate moms in the form of neighbors, aunts, and friends’ mothers. This patched-together group of “moms” are where Gwen learned how to be a woman. The topics covered from Gwen’s first person perspective include domestic abuse, illegitimacy (in a time when that really mattered), forced adoption, child neglect, poverty, and rape. The rape scene and how it was handled afterward should be mandatory reading for anyone who is unsure of the #metoo movement. It reminds me of how things were when I was young (so we need to remember that we have made some improvements in society and law regarding rape). Gwen truly had nobody to turn to—and no rape crisis centers as they hadn’t been invented yet.
Gwen’s descriptions of her homes and the people in her life are carefully and wonderfully drawn. I find it difficult to move from under the spell of her story and back into my own life. Gwen was born the same year as memoirist Mary Karr. There are similarities in topics, but Australia in the 60s and 70s was much different than the United States. And Gwen had less advantages than Mary Karr had. But anybody who found The Liar’s Club or Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle fascinating will find Gwen’s book just as hard to put down.
I hope to have reviews of a couple more books next week!
Felix update: First we went through the exact same disappointment at a different ultrasound facility on Tuesday–it was another screw-up and they sent us home. However, the next day he had his ultrasound. It showed a liver tumor, enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, and other smaller issues. I haven’t been able to talk to his regular vet after she got a copy of the report but we did speak briefly and hypothetically. It’s unlikely that we will put him through more testing as it would be traumatic to him and probably to no avail. But a decision has not yet been made. If we don’t do more testing, we will provide hospice for him at home. I have started giving him subq fluids (under the skin with a needle) once a day, as well as several meds. The internist who performed the ultrasound was so impressed with Felix’s chill personality. He really is the epitome of a “good boy.”
Today I am participating in Serena Agusto-Cox’s Poetic Book Tours hoopla for Sherry Quan Lee’s new poetry collection Septuagenarian. The title is not a word I am familiar with, but I looked it up and it means a person who is from 70-79 years old. How many times have you heard a collection “boast” that the poet is an older person, especially a woman? Not very darn often.
The summary provided by the poet gives a good idea of her focus in the book: “Septuagenarian: love is what happens when I die is a memoir in poetic form. It is the author’s journey from being a mixed-race girl who passed for white to being a woman in her seventies who understands and accepts her complex intersectional identity; and no longer has to imagine love. It is a follow-up to the author’s previous memoir (prose), Love Imagined: a mixed-race memoir, A Minnesota Book Award finalist.”
In the case of Sherry Quan lee, the term “mixed-race” means that her father was Chinese and her mother was African-American or, more accurately, 3/4 AA and 1/4 white. Quan Lee’s mother preferred to pass as white, and she tried to get her children to do so as well. This wasn’t always easy because it created secrets and lies “Mama said, / cover yourself with lies“), such as seen in the poem “Silence”:
one of us had thick curly hair like Mother’s, one of us
had silky straight hair like Father’s; and, yes, one was
beauty and one shame/hotcombs and gas flames and
it was complicated pretending
Quan Lee’s father also wanted to be white, she asserts. Sadly, her father abandoned the family when Quan Lee was five years old.
One of the most poignant poems is “Mother’s and Mine,” which writes about bruising from 28 different perspectives. Tellingly, she writes in #19, “When I stopped wanting what I couldn’t have, I bruised less often.”
This book appears to have been written during the pandemic. It contains some pieces from previous work published by the poet, as well as new work responding to a “woke” perspective. (In fact, she uses that expression to describe how she has learned from living to be 72 in the poem “I Woke to This Place”). It’s sort of a cobbling together of her past with her now-experienced outlook. I love that she included photographs, especially her adorable cover photos, as well as her birth certificate. It really adds to the authenticity by helping document what Sherry Quan Lee’s life has been like. Reading the experiences of a woman who has gone through life differently than myself was fascinating. Because the poetic style is more literal and less figurative than I usually choose to read, I read this book more as an engaging and inspirational memoir than a poetry collection. Sherry Quan Lee’s story needed to be documented and shared, and I am so blessed that I was asked to read her book.
|Imprint:||Modern History Press|
|Author:||Sherry Quan Lee|
|ISBN-13:||PB 978-1-61599-568-4 / HC 978-1-61599-569-1 / eBook 978-1-61599-570-7|
|List Price:||PB $ 17.95 / HC $ 25.95 / eBook $ 4.95|
|Trim:||6 x 9 (100 pp)|
|Social Science/Ethnic Studies/Asian American Studies|
Yesterday, the gardener, our daughter, and I were sitting on the patio of the front yard. Suddenly I saw a bobcat walking the top of the wall. It kept walking the wall until it dropped down onto the grass of our lawn !!!! and scratched on the tree as if it were a cat scratcher. Then he/she climbed the tree back up to the wall and kept going. Our jaws had dropped to our chests. Something seemed a bit off, so we pulled out my daughter’s video from last week. Keep in mind that the pix of the bobcat I’ve shared have been the backyard. Sure enough, that bobcat in the backyard is an adult with long legs and dominant black stripes. This bobcat was an adolescent, much like the one I saw by the bbq before. I don’t think there were any family jewels on the adult, so maybe it’s the mother and her baby or babies still hanging around our neighborhood. None of us had our phones outside with us so we couldn’t get a pic, but that baby was definitely not concerned with us at all.
I’m not sure where the week went! A lot of work, house repairs, and then add in the three physical therapy visits. I have two weeks left of my six weeks, but I am sort of hoping that we can add a once a week or something for awhile after that because my shoulder won’t be completely better by then. I am doing the exercises every single day that I don’t have PT, but it also needs the manipulation by the therapist.
Main Street Rag published another one of my poetry book reviews. This one was for Speaking Parts by Beth Ruscio. Here is the beginning of it to give you an idea. You need to purchase a copy of the magazine to read the whole thing :). Here’s the link: CLICK HERE. There are some amazing writers featured in this issue, so if you are looking to buy a lit mag issue this month, make it this one!
Speaking of character actors, think of all the regular characters you’ve known in your life. My mother used to say “what a character” whenever she encountered someone eccentric or a little different, particularly someone with a big personality. Here’s a Mr. Big Personality I remember from my youth. The only title this poem could have is “Walter.”
Walter stopped by my father’s store
on the first day of shore leave every year.
While he waited for my father to finish up,
Walter picked a wallet from a wooden tray
and handed me some cash to start the process
of spending banknotes stuffed in his pockets.
Walter was a sixteen-ton giant, his enormous chest
encased in a turtleneck, his skipper cap snug
on a head like a stone Colossus. I’d ask him
what happened to last year’s wallet, and he’d
guffaw with a joy that at twelve or sixteen
I could not imagine. All these decades
after Walter, I barely understand its origins.
Dad said Walter joined the merchant marines
after leaving the orphanage: what could he do?
His head twitched as if his inside and outside
were at odds. A woman I knew saw him out
one night; after buying drinks for everyone
and every drink for himself, he slammed the face
of a man into the sticky counter. She suggested
he looked confused, maybe he didn’t realize
his fingers were thicker than the broken nose.
I disregarded her story because my Walter
carried the luggage boxes up from storage
for which I earned a paycheck; he bought us
all lunch to eat in the back room, us peeking
out for customers and trying not to choke
when he had us giggling at his silly sailor jokes.
I’ve been very slowly working on the memoir, my current WIP. And I try to work on my art journals every day, even if only for a few minutes. It’s more relaxing than naps, reading, or TV. That said I am watching the Vera series and wishing we got the Shetland series here. I saw one episode when I was in California, but there aren’t any stations airing it in Phoenix.
Here’s a little conversation between the gardener and me this week:
G: There’s a dead squirrel on the road!
Me: Oh no! Why do you tell me something like that?!
G: So you don’t trip on it.
Me: What? Did you make sure he’s not still alive?
G: [Laughing] Perry’s squirrel.
Then I see it: one of Perry’s stuffie squirrels is in the middle of the hallway, right before you get to the bathroom (one place I am always running to).
Make it a great week!
Recently Liz (Elizabeth) Gauffreau (also: Liz Gauffreau blog) reviewed Doll God, and it’s such a gorgeously written review that I wanted to point it out. This is the Amazon link: Doll God review by Liz Gauffreau. Her analysis reminded me of what Doll God meant to me when I was writing it and what it still means to me today. Here is a small section with her comments followed by a quote from “Sonoran October.”
I particularly appreciated the poems focused on the landscape of the Southwest because I’ve never lived there. After a few rereadings, I realized that the poems express a relationship with the land that is very intimate. You can’t get it from visiting; you have to live it. From “Sonoran October”:
Midafternoon, the only movements:
cottontails dart like ballplayers
from creosote to cactus to ocotillo.
A sky so blue it hisses at my touch.
I’ve been continuing to work on my art journals, although I’m supposed to be finalizing 2020 for taxes for the business. (hahaha) Yes, I said journals, plural. That’s because Amy Maricle suggests keeping more than one journal going at once. When one is drying, you can flit over to another and work on that one. The one I started with is relatively small, and the second one is much larger. The pages are also different as the smaller journal as an accordian style inside, and the larger journal has regular pages. I am learning why art journalists like to make their own journals, though. As you move through the journal, it becomes thicker and thicker until it can’t close. If you bind your own, you can solve that problem by making your binding adjustable or just giving yourself more space.
I suspect the gardener thinks the time I spend on the art journals is amusing or he isn’t sure what to think about it! He doesn’t say much, and he tends not to bother me when I’m in my office working on them. Maybe he’s mystified why I’m not using that time to write. I’m not, though, as it’s a completely different experience than writing and much more relaxing during the pandemic. Artist Anne-Marie van Eck says to stay in “createfulness” because when we create we are connected to our bodies and our minds and we stay in the present. I find that to be an exact description.
Many people seem to have taken up hobbies or expanded on them during the pandemic. Have you done that yourself? A friend of mine became an experimental baker, and another took up quiltmaking. Another friend has become an obsessed gardener (haha, you know who you are–I know you’re reading!!!!) and is transforming her yard into one huge garden (in addition to the catio she already has for her kitties).
I’ve been doing prose revisions lately. Two essays and a review all needed revision. Thank goodness for good and kind editors.
A friend and I read the first part of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, a biography of one of my favorite writers, written by Ruth Franklin. The book could be better. It spends so much time on Jackson’s husband’s career that it feels as if he is standing between me and Jackson, if you know what I mean. And he’s a creep, too. When we had to return our “copies” (hers was audio) to the library, neither of us were very sad. In case the name Jackson doesn’t ring a bell, think “The Lottery” or The Haunting of Hill House or my favorite We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Nevertheless, I rechecked out the book. I am reading sections related to the writing of certain books. Continue reading
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.
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?
Shot Glass Journal has published one of my poems. “Fiction” is another Little Red Riding Hood poem. You can read it here:
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.
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
- Northern France
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.
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:
I’ll leave you with the first and title poem in the book.