In part 3 of my readings, I want to share a few memoirs.
One of my favorite memoir writers is Sheila Morris. She’s witty and smart and involved in social justice issues. She’s also lived a very interesting life as a lesbian who grew up in rural Texas “back in the day” and had to learn how to live her love and her life in a time when people felt they couldn’t be open about their own identities. Furthermore, Sheila was one of the early voices writing about LGBTQ life. Her books are historical landmarks as well as entertaining reads.
Harlan Greene at the College of Charleston writes this about Sheila Morris: “One wonders what is most impressive about her work–the range of it through various formats (nonfiction, blogging, a compiled collection of oral histories), or the range of topics she covers in those formats. What is most apparent, however, is her voice; it is seductive and trustworthy and never falters no matter what topic she is covering–the joys and sorrows of family life, breaking up or falling in love, the restrictions and consolations of religion, the unfairness of our social systems, marriage, racism, travel, and even corporate life. The reader instantly is taken with a no-nonsense . . . depiction of a complex southern lesbian life; no subject is taboo and the writing never fails in honesty or polish. Many people can write of the ups and downs of their daily lives and the gives and takes necessary to weather them, but few match the commonplace (and the transcendent) with such apparently simple but elegant prose. It’s hard to read a few lines without finding something quote-able.”
I recently read two memoirs by writers I had never heard of, books that I had never heard about. They were written by women suffering from chronic medical conditions.
Wired to be Dysfunctional is written by a young woman born with the very rare condition myoclonus dystonia and her mother. They alternate voices in the book, which I found to be very effective. She suffered a lot, not only physically, but emotionally when it took years and years for a diagnosis. My son went through much the same thing. This is the condition that my son has. He was diagnosed in his late 20s although we had taken him to major medical centers since he was a baby.
Drop the Skirt: How My Disability Became My Superpower was written by Amy Rivera. Amy was born with primary lymphedema in one of her legs, which made it huge in comparison with her other leg. She was also blessed with beauty and, as a young person, won a beauty pageant. But that didn’t stop the agony at trying to fit in at school. Amy takes the reader through the process of FINALLY getting diagnosed and finding treatments that would help her. She also became an activist because of her strong personality and what she had gone through, helping to bring about some changes in how insurance companies handle lymphedema claims. Lymphedema is one of the conditions that I was born with. Primary lymphedema like Amy and I have are similar to that brought about by surgery, such as the lymphedema that Kathy Bates, the actor, has, but not exactly the same. And mine is different from Amy’s because she is completely lacking in lymph nodes in that area of her body. Mine are sluggish and my lymph system is tiny. I also have venous insufficiency because, again, the veins are tiny. Mine has plagued me for most of my life, but it’s not as dramatically traumatic as Amy’s is. The title refers to how we all try to wear long flowy dresses and skirts to cover up our legs.
Think of this as part 2 of the reviews of some non-poetry books. If you’re one of the authors, feel free to drop your BOOK LINK or website and/or blog links in the comments! That’s because I am too lazy to pull together that information . . . . But if you put book link in the comments, I’ll try to add it to the post. How bout that?
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT WOMAN IN 1920S VERMONT
Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel Telling Sonny puts a few turbulent months in one woman’s life under the microscope. In doing so, the story captures subtle twists and turns in protagonist Faby Gauthier’s personality, character, and outlook on life. This psychological exploration is most akin to the excavations into the psyche as written by Henry James, but without his complicated sentences and repetitions. Instead, the reader’s attention is less focused on the psychology than on the details of the protagonist, Faby Gauthier’s, experience at home and on the road traveling with her new husband, a vaudeville dancer. Gauffreau manages to recreate a lost world of 1920s small-town New England, Atlantic City, the vaudeville circuit, and rail travel. She obviously painstakingly researched the novel, polishing every detail of each scene until it shines with clarity. Gauffreau’s writing style successfully marries the direct nature of contemporary writing with a more graceful syntax that befits the time period, as well as Faby’s upbringing. When I finished the book, I wanted to talk to other readers about the book, especially my thoughts about Faby and Louis, both micro (such as their choices) and macro (relating to history and sociology). So, please, read it and talk to me about it!
I did read Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel some time ago, but wanted to post it here since it is on sale and is a personal favorite, plus I don’t believe I ever posted a review of the book on this blog. I’m eagerly awaiting Liz’s next novel . . . .
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT JEWISH PIONEERS TO SANTA FE
Santa Fe Love Song, by Amy Bess Cohen, reads like a valentine from Cohen to her great-great grandparents Bernard and Frances (Nussbaum) Seligmann. The story of Bernard, a young immigrant from a small town in Germany to Philadelphia and Santa Fe, though fictionalized, gives a wonderful account of what it would have been like for a German Jewish young man to travel across the ocean by himself, get a job, learn English, and within a matter of months, move across the country to New Mexico via the grueling Santa Fe Trail to meet up with his brother. It’s fascinating to read about Bernard’s acclimation to living out west just before, during, and after the Civil War.
The story is of Bernard’s development as an important pioneer of Santa Fe, and his search for a Jewish wife to bring to a place where there were very few Jews, no Kosher foods, and no synagogue. When he traveled back to Philadelphia to look for a wife, he fell in love with Frances, but would she move to Santa Fe with him? And, if so, would she stay? The story is engaging and the suspense level is well-moderated. When the book ended, I didn’t want to leave the lives of the family of Bernard and Frances. I hope there will be a sequel.
Although the reader first meets Bernard when he is nineteen, he ages throughout the course of the novel, so in this one respect Santa Fe Love Song does not fit the definition of young adult literature. The main character is not a preteen or teen. Nevertheless, half the texts recommended for secondary school students have adult protagonists. The themes and the way mature subjects are handled mean that this book would be suitable for older children, teens, and adults.
Cohen wrote the book, in part, for her own grandchildren to learn about their heritage and the strength of the people who came before them. In keeping with that focus, her grandsons, Nathaniel Jack Fischer and Remy Brandon Fischer, illustrated the book with charming and detailed drawings. They really add to the overall experience of reading this lovely book.
Perhaps the book’s greatest importance lies in how it goes beyond the more often recorded history of Jewish immigrants enriching the eastern American cities where they tended to congregate in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s. Instead, Santa Fe Love Song has a Jewish protagonist who quickly learns how to ride a horse, shoot a gun, and hold his own against the rough and tumble forces of the early American west.
Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl is a fascinating excursion into Marian’s life as a child and young woman who grew up in a Mennonite farm household in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is the first time I have been shown what plain and fancy mean to the Mennonites. Marian was brought up plain, wearing no jewelry or makeup and hiding her hair under a cap. Most of the women did not drive, but the families did have cars that the men drove. (I grew up in Michigan, and many of the Michigan/Indiana Mennonites still ride in buggies like the Amish). Secretly, Marian was drawn to what is fancy, symbolized by her dream of wearing red shoes. While Marian does eventually make a move to the fancy world, she stays true to her Christian upbringing. The book is uplifting and inspirational but doesn’t shy away from the negative in the form of her father whose inability to demonstrate affection and harsh punishments of Marian is heart-breaking. You won’t be disappointed by this story of a different time (largely the 50s and early 60s) and a family rooted in a tradition quite different from most Americans.
P.S. This is not part of my review, but I will mention that I wish that Marian Beaman had set the Mennonites in context with the overwhelmingly majority Amish of the region. You might want to look that up before starting the book. She does, though, make some comparisons with Orthodox Jewish traditions. Also: I love the cover with the red shoes! The book can be purchased here: https://marianbeaman.com/
MYSTERY WITH A HISTORICAL AND ART WORLD TWIST
Attribution is not only a fun and riveting read, but it’s a smart one, too. I learned so much about art history (and art politics) along the way. The protagonist, Cate, a doctoral student finds a mystery painting. She decides to seek attribution for the painting. Her search takes her from her New York university to Spain where she meets a romantic descendant of an old aristrocratic family. The further Cate gets into the mess she’s created, the more questions and dangers arise about the painting and the characters who revolve around that painting. I have a feeling that the author, Linda Moore, spent a long time researching and writing this book, but I am ready for the sequel as I did not want the book to end!
NOVEL OF ADVENTURE IN INDIA, FOCUS ON TOPIC OF ADOPTION
Elaine Pinkerton’s novel The Hand of Ganesh took me on a journey to India with such great detail that I felt as if I accompanied Clara and Dottie/Arundati on their quest to find Dottie’s birth mother. The young women also visited India to carry out the wishes of others for the stone hand of Ganesh that had been in Dottie’s adoptive family. The omniscient novel focuses mainly on Clara, an American (and Native American) adoptee whose story was first told in Pinkerton’s novel All the Wrong Places. Clara, who has already searched for her birth mother, acts as a sort of guide for Dottie who was born in India, but she knows very little about her origins. She is the ideal viewpoint for the novel because she is an outsider to India and shares what she learned with the reader. Suspense lies both in the larger issue—will Dottie find the mother of the child Arundati—and in a more subtle question—how do foreigners know who to trust in a country they do not know or understand? Read The Hand of Ganesh for its engaging storyline, meticulous depiction of southern India, and adoptee themes. Read The Hand of Ganesh and you will be eager to plan a trip to India.
Here are reviews of some non-poetry books I’ve read recently. If you’re one of the authors, feel free to drop your website and/or blog links in the comments!
SEXY ROMANCE & MYTHOLOGY
Heart of a Warrior, by Eden Robins, is the super steamy romantic adventure of a mortal contemporary Arizona woman, Dora, who meets an immortal from the time of Greek mythology and is awakened to knowledge of a past life she never knew she had. Dora, or Pandora, as she once was called, needs all her empathic healing powers and strong warrior qualities to deal with the evil Silvers. The immortal, Philoctetes, joins forces with Dora—or does he? Is their relationship destined for war or will their ignited passions result in the love-making Dora fantasizes? A question is implicit throughout: What if loving someone could kill you?
The contrast of the realistic Arizona setting that includes cacti, caverns, cars, and computers with the mores and ethics of the gods and goddesses, past intrigues, and the evil machinations of the Silvers makes every plot event and character trait believable. The plot moves quickly, but a sense of suspense kept me engaged throughout. In fact, the suspense is whether or not Dora and Phil will achieve success against the Silvers, but also what they will do about their outlawed attraction for each other. I was surprised by a cliffhanger ending, and then I realized that this is the first in the Gold series planned by Robins. I can’t wait for book 2!
D.L. Finn’s middle-grade short story collection, Tree Fairies and Their Short Stories, is a charming read. I think young children would be able to understand, as well, and this adult reader certainly loved it. The tree fairy world that Finn has created is delightful, the characters–both fairy and human–are well-drawn, and the environmentalism that underlies the book is important to the health of humans, animals, and our planet. I’m so glad I read this book, and in my imagination I can still see the fairies flying in the forest and visiting the Wise Trees!
MURDER MYSTERIES WITH A UNIQUE TWIST
I always enjoy reading Carol Balawyder’s books. The Lilac Notebook is no exception. In fact, it might be my favorite. When I first heard that it was a mystery, and that the “detective” character at the center of the book was a woman, Holly, with early onset Alzheimer’s, I was intrigued but not sure that the book could really work. After all, if Holly was losing her memory, how could she put together a proper answer to the question “who done it?” Well, Balawyder imagination, knowledge, and knowhow accomplished the seemingly impossible. I was fully enmeshed in the tragedy of Holly’s life, watching her go through the agony of starting to lose pieces of herself all the while she had to create a new life for herself after her husband left her. I cheered for her when she joined a poetry class and began to do what she wanted, rather than what her husband wanted. I cried for her when she couldn’t remember—and most especially when she didn’t know if she was missing a memory or if someone wanted her to think so. Ultimately, Holly does solve the crime, although perhaps not in the manner we expect out of a murder mystery. This book, though, is so much more than a murder mystery. It is a caring, compassionate look at early-onset Alzheimer’s and a person faced with it. It is bound to generate more compassion in its readers for future encounters with those suffering memory loss. You won’t want to miss this wonderful book by Carol Balawyder.
Fractured Oak: This hybrid genre of fantasy and murder mystery is well-written, engaging, and a joy to read. I don’t know how Dannie Boyd (Carrie Rubin) does it, but she manages to have a tree as a detective! This is no ordinary tree, though, but a 19th century woman who has turned into a tree. From her vantage point she witnesses murder, and she does all she can to try to bring the murderer to justice. Another aspect of the book I really liked is that the tree-woman was the first female medical school student at her school in Ohio. This brings in the author’s medical training and adds to the realism and intelligence of the novel. The writing is sensitive and lyrical, but smart and, when needed, even tough. I have enjoyed several books by the author under her own name, and this one is my new favorite.
ADVENTURE AND FANTASY
John Howell’s novel The Last Drive, the sequel to Eternal Road, well satisfies my curiosity in the continued journey of Sam and James as they try to accomplish their heavenly tasks amidst interference from the powerful and disgusting Lucifer. In this narrative, the angelic duo enlists the help of Eddie Rickenbacker (a historical figure) to save the soul of his charge, the newly dead Ryan. The four time travel between historical events, such as the Holocaust, the sinking of the Titanic, and WWI. As in Eternal Road, Howell is adept at merging the fantasy of time travel with the details of history. Sam and James are adept at following God’s plan for Eternity and his angels. This book is a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging, and rewarding read.
What happens when you’re given a diagnosis of a very rare and fatal cancer, but there is a horrible experimental treatment being offered to you? In The Winding Road, we learn what Miriam Hurdle decided–to undergo the grueling chemo and radiation schedule–and how she copies with it. She set her daughter’s still unfulfilled life mileposts of marriages and children as a goal–she wanted to see her daughter married and to meet her future grandchildren. The reader knows from the beginning of the story that Miriam will overcome the cancer because she has written her memoir about it. But life is in the details, and this book provides many. I loved getting the inside information on how her illness affected her job, as well as seeing the loving support she got from friends and fellow church members. Because I lived for over twenty years in the same general geographic location, I could picture all the hospitals and other places she talks about. But that knowledge isn’t necessary because we all know what hospitals and medical care can be like. When a doctor ignores a referral for three weeks when Miriam has no time to lose, it is so easy to imagine her visiting the office, being completely ignored by the fools at the counter, and sitting there in the waiting room until someone takes pity on her after hours and tries to help her. This is a short book, and you will want to read to the finish in one or two sittings.
With son and DIL living here, we have their dog Theo here as well. He’s such a little goofy guy, and I get to let him out when his mom and dad are both gone for three hours or more. I can’t physically handle walking him on a leash, although in a pinch I can take him on the driveway on a leash because he’s very good for me. But I like to let him roam the backyard, which is fenced. He’s very loved and what’s rewarding for me is that he loves his Grandma! In his photo you can see a very typical expression he gets on his face as he is always trying to figure out what’s going on.
Our Wolves has received some lovely and “interesting” attention that I thought I would share with you.
There are some wonderful reviews on Goodreads (and Amazon), including those by veteran reviewers Elizabeth Gauffreau, Suanne Schafer, a couple of Library Things reviewers, etc. I also received my first one star rating ever!!! Yes, “Donna” wrote: “An interesting take on Red Riding Hood. Dark and shades of abuse. Might be someone else’s cup of tea but not mine.” Apparently, even though it’s an interesting take, because it’s not her cup of tea, it warrants a one star.