Friday, March 18, 2022

The Woman Who Would Not Be Silenced

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her DisappearThe Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will be recommending The Woman They Could Not Silence for a long time to come. Not only is the writing flawless, but the tale itself is riveting. Thanks to Moore's impeccable research, the reader is immediately caught up in this historical account of Elizabeth Packard's journey from her home with lovely green shutters to an asylum of grated windows. For the offense of thinking.

In the United States in the 20th century, married women had no legal rights to property - including her own body which was the property of her husband. When Elizabeth Packard's intellect put her at odds with her husband's views he threatened to have her put in an asylum for the insane. Only an insane woman would contradict her husband, after all. It was not an unusual occurrence; many husbands and fathers all across the country were committing their wives and daughters for offenses such as "domestic trouble, religious excitement, puerperal (postpartum), spiritualism, hard study," and more.

As terrifying as the situation was, once Elizabeth got a handle on the reality - she was not the only sane woman in the asylum - she began to fight back. She fought for her freedom, she fought for her friends' freedom, she fought for the freedom of women everywhere. Moore's book takes us along on that triumphant and harrowing journey in vivid detail.

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Thursday, March 3, 2022

Raising the Bar

Raising the Bar: A Lawyer's MemoirRaising the Bar: A Lawyer's Memoir by Ruth Rymer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In Raising the Bar , Ruth Rymer reveals a life quintessentially as complex, rewarding, and demanding as it can get. In so doing, we read what it is to make a decision and stick to it no matter what. From marrying a man for whom her parents will disown her, to fighting like she'd never had to fight before in order to get a law degree, Rymer demonstrates the rewards and the setbacks in equal measure. With the balanced portrayal given in Raising the Bar, Rymer paints a reality demonstrative of the doubled-up efforts the women of previous generations were forced to apply if they desired success where only men trod.

Rymer made a lot of decisions in her life and makes no secret about them in this memoir. She also makes no attempt to camouflage any negative results for her choices; after all, this memoir is about deciding something and seeing it through. Reading of Rymer's personal triumphs, along with what doesn't work out, cinched my involvement in the story and kept me engaged.

Rymer was instrumental in facing up to the sexism and misogynistic attitudes in the legal system in California on all fronts, from defendants to plaintiffs to attorneys. When Family Law became a legal specialty, it was Rymer's tireless work, her endless fighting for it, which made it possible. I enjoyed reading about the legal cases Rymer was involved with, as well as the struggles she fought against in order to make women equal to men under the law. Bravo!

In 2008 Rymer was awarded a much deserved lifetime achievement award from The Queen's Bench Bar Association. I recommend Raising the Bar to all who would like to learn more about the legal system and especially to those who take their rights for granted, as the struggle to gain them was real – this book illustrates the decisive actions of one of the people who was instrumental in winning them for us.




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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Humanity's Grace

Humanity's GraceHumanity's Grace by Dede Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Humanity's Grace is an arresting abstract painting of words. It's no less than creative brilliance the way Dede Montgomery blends this murder mystery with all manner of human frailty and triumph. This collection of linked short stories reads much like a novel with its in-depth exposure of each character's inner struggle and heroic realization (and there are more than enough characters to keep the reader interested). Humanity's Grace also reads like a genre fiction as the reader is compelled throughout the book to wonder whodonit.

In fifteen chapters, 117 pages, Humanity's Grace is an accent light on the lives of interconnected people who may or may not know each other yet whose paths cross in ways perhaps only the reader sees, perhaps the characters see, but all is exposed delicately, humanely, graciously. Each character is wholly interesting and fully human. Montgomery's writing is so precise, engaging, and compelling as to render each page a masterpiece.

Humanity's Grace is a book of linked short stories, it's a literary novel, it's a murder mystery. Humanity's Grace is an abstract painting of words which may defy definition.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Last Days of Night

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found out so many wonderful and fascinating things by reading this page turner. The battle for the bulb between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison was not a quiet one. The Last Days of Night is told from the perspective of the lawyer retained by Westinghouse, Paul Cravath, and what a battle this story portrays! Sabotage, intrigue, payoffs, and even a battle over Tesla. Like I mentioned a minute age, it's a page turner!!!

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Monday, December 13, 2021

The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life

The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing LifeThe Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life is a beautiful work of art, a creative presentation of ideas, and a fanciful tête-à-tête with twelve inspiring female authors from the past such as Alcott, Austen, Brontë, Sand, Woolf, and more. The book contains anecdotes, insights, and musings, about all the elements of the writing life experienced by these twelve women.

Almost every page has a graphic of some sort, anchoring the reader's eyes and feeding their artistic appreciation. The colors and backgrounds of aged journal entries are calming, the photographs vivid, the graphics such as flowers and books are cheery and those of a vintage typewriter are a sure prompt for the writer.

Atlas' choice of presentation is so unique as to make the reader feel as though we're not actually reading a book so much as engaging in a conversation. These aren't biographies per se, but single ideas explored by individual authors so each person maintains an autonomous voice and doesn't get lost in a net of "literary ladies."

Atlas' writing style was quite inclusive and she shared many things I didn't know about even some of my favorite authors. I'll be sure to keep this book by by my keyboard for inspiration because that's exactly what it is - inspiration!

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Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Four Winds

The Four WindsThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brave thing indeed for Hannah to create a character who comes across as (understandably) week as a scared dog who pees on the floor every time you raise your voice. But she did, and we as readers cheered Elsa on as she changed, grew, and stopped being blown about by the wind as she heroically saved her children from the ravages of dust, heat, rain, and man.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Beyond the Ripples

Beyond the RipplesBeyond the Ripples by Dede Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The characters in Beyond the Ripples were as varied as could be on the personality spectrum, yet all had so much in common. Mistakes were made and lives were changed. Decisions which carried life altering repercussions were carried out, regretted, culled over and forgiven, and I was rooting for each and every one of the charismatic characters.

In this story, one girl (Annie) decides to reach out as far away as Japan via a note in a bottle thrown in the river when her parents are going through a rough patch. Her note was the catalyst for an unlikely journey of two lonely women to find happiness, forgiveness, and friendship when they learn to do the same as Annie by reaching out as they bond over the mystery of the note, the history of anger, and growth after forgiveness.

I'm looking forward to reading more from Dede Montgomery.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Leaving Time

Leaving TimeLeaving Time by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The elephants! Sometimes while reading LEAVING TIME, I felt as if I were right alongside Alice in the Jeep observing the wild elephants with her. Later, at the elephant sanctuary, reading about the feeding, grooming, and other care giving activities carried out by the handlers gave me an appreciation for elephants far beyond what I began with. Reading of Alice's observations in the field, of how elephants experienced grief in a very human and long-suffering manor, how they cared for their young as if their lives depended on it, and how they looked out for each other be it a predatory threat or an injury, all cemented me to the book with each turn of the page.

Jenna, Alice's 13 year old daughter, is searching for a mother she hasn't seen in 10 years. With the passion of a baby elephant separated from its mother, Jenna is determined to find answers. Her father is in an asylum and of no help, her grandmother is no help, so she turns to a psychic and an investigator. The unlikely trio each has an interesting story to add to the mix of LEAVING TIME.

The ending! Perfect.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The reader of the book notwithstanding (this review is of the audiobook version and sometimes I thought a computer generated voice was trolling down the pages), the book itself is a definite 5 out of 5 stars. I found the subject to be so intriguing and the skilled exposure of each woman's life so artfully revealed, that the reader's deficiencies were easily forgiven.

Though I'd heard of the "radium girls" before, referencing the early 20th century factory workers who contracted cancer from working with radium, I had no idea the suffering they'd endured, the struggles they met, the absolute painful and life-threatening actions they undertook to not only hold their past employers liable for their negligent and murderous actions, but to convince the public once and for all of the poisonous properties found in radium.

To hear in this audio book version the descriptors of puss oozing, blood flowing, jaw bones snapping, does tend to turn the stomach, perhaps even more so than reading it from the print or electronic formats, but perhaps it also made me even more sympathetic to the innocent girls' plight, as surely hearing it verbalized so graphically made it more real.

What happened to the girls shouldn't have ever happened. Moore's version is one everyone should read - either in print, electronically, or this audio edition, not just because heroes should be celebrated, but because tyrants should never be forgotten.

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Monday, June 14, 2021

A Spark of Light

A Spark of LightA Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I gave this book more room for error than I would most books which failed to engage my attention, simply because I've read a number of books by Picoult and have enjoyed her dramatic flair, literary creativity, and unique points of view on difficult subjects.

A Spark of Light, though, misses the mark on many points. The most disrupting element of the book was its reverse chronology which kept pulling me out of the story and pushing me up against the wall pulling my hair out trying to remember what's going on with whom. The long list of characters were all interesting and each and every one of them, in true Picoult style, had a convincing and captivating story on their own - weaving well together with each other - BUT, it required far too much work on my part with the reverse chronology, the sheer numbers of active characters, the myriad motivating factors, to be able to care - what with the task of organizing it all totally consuming me.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

 

The Network: The Hidden History of a Trillion Dollar Business HeistThe Network: The Hidden History of a Trillion Dollar Business Heist by Scott Woolley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scott Woolley takes the reader on a thrilling scientific fete from the use of Morse code in wireless messages aboard the sinking Titanic, messages which saved hundreds of lives, to the broadcasting of radio, TV, and radar. From Satellites to Senators and presidents and the FCC, the evolution of the wireless network is revealed with insight, intelligence, and a touch of humor and its industry leaders exposed or heralded as befitting their parts in their roles in the network's ride on America's airwaves.

(A five star read, yes, but could of used one more go-around with an editor).

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Saturday, April 3, 2021

Big Tech is Big Brother

The events of the past year have prompted my inner conspiracy theorist to re-visit an old favorite, a book I reviewed on Sept. 11, 2009.  If people aren't aware of who "big brother" refers to, or how history can be manipulated to fit the current whims of contemporary political and social figures, or how science is only science if the mainstream touts it as such, or how lies are accepted as truth and the truth is ridiculed as a lie until everyone agrees it's false, then to read 1984 by George Orwell is a must. 

Jesus Freaks: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, the Ultimate Jesus FreaksJesus Freaks: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, the Ultimate Jesus Freaks by D.C. Talk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The stories from this collection of martyred souls made a deep impression on me. Within the pages are tales of people who were beaten, tortured, and killed for believing in Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, from the time of Jesus' ascension to heaven and up to the modern day.

Jesus said, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)

JESUS FREAKS is a book demonstrating the power of not only having faith in Jesus, but also the power Jesus gives to His followers so they can withstand the torment of those who hate Him, and those who believe in Him. Though it is a bit disheartening to watch believers around the world suffering for their beliefs, it is also encouraging and enlightening to see Jesus, faith, and redemption shining with life and hope from every page.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What Stories Are You Living?

According to thesaurus.com, heroism manifests in many different ways. Out of curiosity, I read through the list and found that all of those ways were requisite of some sort of action. From adventurer, to champion, protector to warrior, all heroes (aside from the sandwiches) do something. It can be said that such heroes are living the story of protagonist vs. antagonist, ally vs. nemesis, or good vs. evil. Rarely has a human life been lived which did not encounter some sort of desire or crisis. The well presented What Stories are You Living By Dr. Carol S. Pearson, shows that how we approach achieving or conquering these situations is largely determined by our dominant archetype.  

In What Stories Are You Living, Dr. Pearson builds on the scope and applications of her previous books extolling Jungian theory. What Stories Are You Living digs deep into the motivations and desires of 12 archetypes in order to show the reader-hero how to claim hero-ship over almost any element in their lives. Dr. Pearson has developed these archetypes using theories from renowned Psychologist C.G. Jung, and Psychoanalyst James Hillman and has built upon the myths portrayed in Joseph Campbell's work. 

I found the book fun and informative, but one of the most interesting things about What Stories Are You Living, is that a reader can pick it up, begin reading anywhere their eyes land, and be instantly taken in, be it by one of the many stories adapted from the classics generously peppered throughout, or by some of the more clinical, but no less enthralling, anecdotes delivered by Dr. Pearson. 

In the beginning of the book, an assessment is offered for those who would like to know more about their high, low, and midrange archetypes. Knowing one's heroic strengths will help improve situations at work, school, or in relationships. The test does not take very long, and it's fun to see the results. The Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator, PMAI, was developed by Dr. Pearson and Dr. Hugh Marr as a means of ranking an individual's unique hierarchy of archetypical strengths. The twelve archetypes fall within these twelve headings: 

---Idealist --- Realist --- Warrior --- Caregiver --- Seeker --- Lover --- Revolutionary --- Creator ---Magician --- Sage --- Ruler --- Jester

Taking the assessment added an element of adventure, or interactive reading to the whole book.

All of which makes chapter 4 a very interesting 40 pages to read. Each type undergoes the microscope and the image is conveyed to the reader in colorful bits of consistent descriptors such as plotlines, conflicts, endings and processes, serving to encourage a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of every archetype. Exemplified within these descriptions are the journeys, all within the range of Starting Out, Adulting, Trigger Issue, Integrating, etc. described for each. 

Reading on, we discover positives for all types, how to understand the reader's archetypical scores on the PMAI assessment, psychotherapy, applications in schools, at work, etc. Then comes my favorite - Ch. 10! More stories as Dr. Pearson uses archetypical narrative to illustrate each type's strengths and follies. Daoist teachings, a Thomas Edison anecdote a Finnish myth, movie quotes, cartoon characters, classic novels, this section is an all inclusive, no holds barred extravaganza of story plots, characters, and drama. A perfect culmination of stories for a body of work exposing the stories we are living. 

















Saturday, September 12, 2020

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of course, I can't speak for everyone, but 2020 has been the year of the book for me. Having faced a pandemic that limits my leisure choices, I've read more books than ever and Half of a Yellow Sun is far and above the best book I've read all year! Adiche's writing voice is intriguing, soft, and powerful. She guides the reader along through the heart wrenching and sometimes heart melting war ravaged drama of the much loved, sometimes flawed, and very beautiful fictional characters engaged in the real history of the Biafran war for independence from Nigeria.

I like how Adiche divides the story into four parts, beginning in the early sixties, then the late, then early and late again. It was a great method for delivering certain parts of the story at just the right moment to keep me wondering what was going to happen next.




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Monday, April 27, 2020

Animal Farm

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read 1984 before I read Animal Farm so it wasn't the totalitarian shocker it could have been to me. I thought it was great, the way the animals took on human characteristics but remained animals. Mostly. Any student of philosophy, politics, psychology, history, etc. would have an incomplete education if they skipped over this book.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”



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The Outsider

The OutsiderThe Outsider by Stephen King

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


The beginning was captivating, but the book gradually lost my interest. It's the first SK book I didn't finish reading and I've read a gobbly-gook load of SK's books.



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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea





Sarah Relyea's Playground Zero is a multi-viewpoint story much in the same vein as Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller. The major difference is that Relyea's story is told from the third person perspective. Having all the diverse points of view revealing the story was illuminating, especially in the beginning when evaluating the various motivations of how and why the family was moving from DC to Berkeley. As Playground Zero moved forward, the differing points of view went a long way toward building sympathy with each character's individual story.

The year was 1968, a time fraught with ages-old issues burgeoning to their bursting point. In Berkeley, CA, the counterculture was awash in the sentiment and politics of the civil rights movement, and the free-flowing drugs of social anarchy. This is where we find 12 year old Alice, newly arrived from DC with her mother, father, and brother, trying to make friends amid groups she doesn't fit in with and confused by her own body. This is where desegregated angst meets armed confrontations with the police when Marian, Alice's mother, tries making new friends and finds herself mixed up with a hotbed of a group filled with much younger white skinned black panther activists. This is where Tom, the family patriarch, begins seeing another woman. This is where Curt, Alice's older brother, may have begun to run with the wrong crowd. The tension near Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley builds like a game of telephone along a phoneline of a hundred voices.

Alice's character in Playground Zero was certainly engaging, but I personally felt a greater connection to Marian's story. The Vietnam war was a constant in all the media, all the time, and her son was nearing draft age, her husband's job relocated her away from her friends, her groups, to a strange city on the other side of the continent full of dope smoking nihilists, and the angst of the times were at once propelling and consuming her. But no matter which character one sympathizes with, once the cadence of the story beats into the reader's blood, it is hard to put the book down.






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Saturday, June 22, 2013

SET IN STONE

Set In Stone (A Travis Eldritch Problem Book 1)Set In Stone by Jennifer Vandenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set In Stone is a refreshing look at a private eye who is dealing with a big problem. I love the humor in this book which is the first of a series of quick and quirky reads sure to captivate readers and leave them wanting more.

The expression, "What's your problem," will never mean the same to me.



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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aliens In America

Aliens in AmericaAliens in America by Sandra Tsing Loh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aliens In America by Sandra Tsing Loh is a comical look at a three-dimensional culture clash. Loh's German mother is often trying to leave her past behind and move forward in an American culture that allows for much freedom, while Loh's Chinese father is always pinching pennies to the nth degree in an effort to stave off some unseen impending doom. Loh stands at the tip of this triangle of German-Chinese immigration waving the American flag with no history of political/social oppression to hold her back.

Aliens In America is a short book, a quick read. It is a great choice for anyone who is looking for an easy smile or a new perspective on living in the Untied States. Loh's wonderfully smooth conversational tone of writing made the book a pleasure to read, as if I were sitting across the table from her and sharing in her personal reminisces' while sipping a creamy mocha java and trying not to spray it out my nose when laughter caught me off guard.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Girl Land

Having raised two daughters, now in their twenties, and being the grandma of three young granddaughters, I find Caitlin Flanagan's recently published book, Girl Land, particularly relevant to me. In comparing the teen scenes of generations past to those of today, we find that though Girl Land is a common phase shared by all females, the stark differences between the social atmospheres over time has landed many young girls in a difficult struggle to find their places. The biggest struggle, as has been for generation upon generation in the past, is a girl's self-image and how it relates to the opposite sex. This building of the self-image requires much introspection, hence the term "finding oneself." Our culture being one of techno-media is overwhelming our girls and causing great turmoil, for instead of spending enough time in self-contemplation, they simply learn all of their information by watching the images frolicking across the various screens before them.

As we fail to provide support and encouragement for the struggling girls in our homes and communities, we need to realize that it is us who first taught them that reality is learned by watching TV. It is the parents, caregivers, and teachers who plopped our toddlers down in front of Barney, Elmo, and the like for the purpose of learning the fundamental skills that were once taught first by direct-parenting then hands-on teaching. Now these same girls are learning of the larger reality of which they are infinitely curious. The media-learning that our girls are subjected to by a society that does not have their best interests at heart is countered in Girl Land with some of the most successful teaching aids in all of history: Books. What better way to aid a young gal in her all important deep thinking moments than by giving her characters, plots, and conflicts which not only can she relate to, but which she can work through in her own imagination without the distraction of caustic images and sound bites? Give her some space where she's not being bombarded with how other people think she should act or look or think. Books have been known to encourage thinking for many centuries; the combined audio/visual media does not have this track record, and in fact seems to be failing quite miserably as a tool in personal and social development.

I have made a list of many of the books that are quoted and referenced in Girl Land. Titles such as Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, A tree Grows In Brooklyn, and Forever, are among those that I am heading to my local bookstore to purchase. I am hopeful that the insights and situations within the pages of these books will make me a better grandparent for my granddaughters; for Flanagan's book has revealed to me just how truly difficult my generation has made it for the next generation to find happiness.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Worst Hard Time

In the Middle of the United States during the 1930's, the skys swirled incessantly with so much soil that homes could not be rid of it, animals died with it blocking their digestion, and people died of what was termed dust pnuemonia. Chains were hooked to the backs of automobiles and dragged behind in order to ground the vehicles and prevent electricution while driving, rabbits were rounded up in great masses and clubbed to death, and some folks took to canning tumbleweed for it was the only vegetation that could be found.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan is a tale not only of the massive dusters that plagued this era, but also of the people who confronted these conditions with the hope of coming out ahead. The hope of tomorrow. We, as readers, get to know them as they struggle within their communities from the Panhandle in Texas to the lower regions of Colorado. Each with an engaging tale of survival, cunning, and resourcefulness. As we follow along with these unforgettable hero's, we learn much about what caused the dust bowl and the approach to solving the problem that affected the entire nation.

Reading this book, I realized that greed is not a class attribute, but a universal one, that hero's truly are born everyday and come in many shapes and sizes, and that hope really is eternal.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

WILD SWANS

Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint when the indigo first began running off the pages of a book and squeezing my heart with inky fingers. Reading WILD SWANS, by Jung Chang is just such an instance. It is at once a memoir and a colorful, first-hand history of twentieth-century China. The "Wild Swans" are Jung Chang's  grandmother, mother and herself as the story of the Chinese cultural revolution unfolds in chronological order. The grandmother was born in a time when foot binding was practiced, Jung Chang's mother was a member of the Communist forces, and Jung was born during a time of casting off of imperialistic modes as well as suffering greatly at the hands of rumor and accusation by all acounts of a violent cultural upheaval.

The scenery, characters, and emotion of this story are portrayed with dignity and strength by Jung Chang as doubts of her devotion to Chairman Mao begin to creep in. The hardships that the citizens of China suffered during Mao's purging of enemies, who's faces changed like the wind, are portrayed with passion and thought.
This is the book I recommend to all who tout the benefits of Communism, be it by labeling "class enemies," or touting a State that sees to the needs of its people.

Jung Chang was born in  Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She left China for Brittain in 1978, soon after earning a Ph.D in Linguistics from York University.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Baiqiao Tang

My Two Chinas: the memoir of a Chinese counter-Revolutionary is an in-depth look of the struggle of Baiqiao Tang as he went from being a student leader during the pro-democracy movement, to improsonment under the charges of being a counter-revolutionary, to becoming a voice to free China. Everybody should read this book. Within these pages are descriptions the Tiananmen Square Masscre, prison life in China, a great deal of the humanity that binds all people together, as well as depictions of Chinese culture, including family life and allusions to great Chinese poets.

I was inspired by this book to work harder on my poetry writing, to take it more seriously than I have done in the past because this man, Baiqiao Tang is obviously a modern day hero and in this book he reveres poets as well as including some poet terminology within his work. That, despite the fact that on June 4th, 1989 the Tiananmen Square Massacre claimed the lives of thousands of peaceful protesters.

Baiqiao Tang lived to tell the story of that massacre, and that's what he has devoted his life to ever since his escape from China. This is a book of courage and strength that is well told with poetic prose and frightening reality.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The "Wagon's West" series

I usually try to avoid reading series for a couple of reasons. One, I'm afraid I'll lose interest or become disappointed somewhere down the line, thereby discrediting the original passion that I had for the initial book. Another reason is, I just hate the thought of waiting and waiting and waiting for a new installment only to find that, for whatever reason, the author can't or won't be writing more of the series. I stumbled across what I thought was a relatively new series and since it was written in my favorite fiction genre and titled after the state that I live in, I picked it up.

With a little searching, I came to find out that what I'd purchased brand new was actually a reprint of a series that was printed in the late seventies to late eighties, the "Wagon's West" series by Dana Fuller Ross. Not only is the series already complete, and not only did I begin reading it out of order, but there are a total of 24 titles in the series with an additional series shooting off from it.  The secondary series is entitled "The Holts, An American Dynasty," and has a total of ten titles.

I'm hooked on the "Wagons West" series in a bad way. I have read volumes 1-8, mostly in order. Having searched used book stores and such for the books, I could not always find the book that I needed, so I read what I could find. It seems the publisher who is putting out reprints is in no hurry to get them on the shelves, probably trying to re-kindle the original draw to the series by releasing them in the same time period as they were originally released. I don't know, but waiting drove me crazy, so I searched the used book stores and picked up what I could because I'm feverish with obsession.

This series is a fantastic read for lovers of historical fiction, westerns, romance or action-adventure books. My favorites so far have been "Texas" and "Nevada," because the action is non-stop. Not one of the books in the series thus far has been a sleeper, though. The characters are unforgettable and the situations are believable. The interactions, introductions, and continuations are flawlessly executed. The writing style of Dana Fuller Ross keeps me turning page after page.


Wagons West


1. Independence! (1979)

2. Nebraska! (1979)

3. Wyoming! (1979)

4. Oregon! (1980)

5. Texas! (1980)

6. California! (1981)

7. Colorado! (1981)

8. Nevada! (1982)

9. Washington! (1982)

10. Montana! (1983)

11. Dakota! (1983)

12. Utah! (1983)

13. Idaho! (1984)

14. Missouri! (1984)

15. Mississippi! (1985)

16. Louisiana! (1985)

17. Tennessee! (1986)

18. Illinois! (1986)

19. Wisconsin! (1987)

20. Kentucky! (1987)

21. Arizona! (1988)

22. New Mexico! (1988)

23. Oklahoma! (1989)

24. Celebration! (1989)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Essays of E.B. White"

E.B. White was an extremely talented writer of essays. He wrote thousands of essays for the "New Yorker," from its inception in 1925 to the day of his passing in 1985 at the age of 86. No one would argue that E.B. White was the Master of letters of the 20th century. His writing style is conversational, and his subject matter is interesting and timeless, like a very good story that you just can't put down.

This particular collection of essays contains essays on the demise of the railroad as transportation, the female raccoon who gives birth to her young in White's tree every year, the harmful effects of radiation, and much more. Each essay has within it the power to make the reader care about whatever the subject is. One of my favorites is the essay in which he lovingly extols the beauty and idiosyncrasies of his Model T.

What it was about this collection of essays that I enjoyed most was the way in which they encouraged me to think about the everyday things in life. I am encouraged to appreciate loved ones more, and take care not to take them for granted. I feel as though I should look on all that I have and really, really be thankful.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Shack

Being that "The Shack" has sold over 7 million copies, I suppose that it is a book that has been reviewed by countless bloggers. Regardless, once in awhile there comes along a book that has a message that reflects what people are feeling, and this is one of them. So, though it's been reviewed by many already, I will attempt to add something to the table.

Mr. William Paul Young wrote "The Shack" in just four months and printed 15 copies at an office depot, delivering a copy to each of his 6 kids and mailing the rest to friends who passed them onto their friends. This book started as a pass-along, word-of-mouth book, and that's also the way it became a best seller.

I would call the book unorthodox in its approach to theology, but I would say that Young is dead-on with his depictions of human relations with each other and with the God-head. The protagonist, Mack, is a likable character with inner demons that we can all relate to, and has issues with God that are not difficult to understand. The story is totally believable, though we know it to be fiction. It is a story that we can't walk away from without feeling a little more whole, or without having something make a little more sense. It is a
book that certainly depicts how humans struggle with God and with themselves. In a nutshell, the message of the book is that humans spend all of their mental and emotional energy on politics, religion and economics and very little of their energy on their relationships.

The humor in the book is sprinkled in at the right moments. I've honestly never actually imagined God as having a sense of humor. It is with humor that Mr. Young has succeeded in putting an approachable face on God. I would suggest that if it's a theologically accurate book of fiction you're looking for, "The Shack" is probably not for you. If it's an uplifting, fantasy-type fiction that you want, then you will enjoy this book. "The Shack" will aid your imagination, rub salve on your wounds, and stretch the boundaries of your heart.

I've worked at a book store for over four years and "The Shack" is the first book that I've ever seen sell completely off the shelves simply by word of mouth, over and over again, the way that "The Shack" has done. I'm not going to give away any of the plot of the book in this blog, I only hope to write enough about the book to encourage people to read it themselves.

Friday, September 11, 2009

George Orwell's "1984"

Referring to "1984" during talks of politics always seems to do a fine job of nipping the conversation in the bud. I find that referring all political arguments to this book is a succinct and effective tool for summing up my belief, or lack thereof, of politicians in general and political parties specifically.

The main character of the story is Winston Smith, who has the job of re-writing history in all available formats when one of the three existing superpowers is at war with another. By doing this, Big Brother keeps the citizens of Oceania brainwashed as to true world events. The other two superpowers, Eastasia and Eurasia, undoubtably operate in the same way as Oceania. One would think that such brain-washing would be unlikely, if not entirely impossible, except that Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin used mind control devices quite effectively during their regimes.

We learn of Big Brother's control of Winstom Smith's life from the very beginning of the story, when he is roused from slumber by his monitoring screen (telescreen). Big Brother has these mounted in every nook and cranny throughout Oceania and is watching for deviants from the acceptable behavior of Big Brother.

Our character, Winston, falls away from the acceptable norms of Oceania by thinking for himself. He falls in love with a co-worker and they try to form a plan to get out from under the watchful eye of Big Brother. Big Brother finds out and this is where the brutality of a totalitarian government is exposed.

I think about "1984" often, I see it as prophetic and genius. Orwell included some pretty ingenius contraptions in his tale. Located in the walls of Winston's building at work were waste disposals for incinerating the old news, there were vacuum tubes being used to transfer Winston's work assignments to and from his desk. It seemed that he worked on the internet - though it wasn't actually what we have these days, but it could be viewed as such in a loose sense of the word.

As for contemporary times and changing the news, how could that happen these days with so many web pages being uploaded daily? I suppose monitoring would be key. I imagine that given enough "Big Brother" employees, each page could easily be censored before being approved for display.

My lesson from "1984" was that I don't want any Big Brother watching me, I don't want Big Brother to be responsible for my food, clothing, shelter, or my health. Thank you Mr. Orwell for helping make my political conversations so simple.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Canterbury Tales"

I picked "The Canterbury Tales" up without having any idea of what to expect. Reading through, I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud over some of the scenes presented within the tales. This book rammed a lightning bolt through the area of my brain which housed preconceived notions. The first notion that was shot to hell was that anything that is over 500 years old wouldn't be funny. Another notion that was put to an end while reading this book was that the art of poetry has evolved over time.

My first laugh came so unexpected that I practically choked. It was a scene where a guy thought he was going to kiss a gal, but got the husbands rear end instead. He'd had his eyes closed and fell for it hook line and sinker. The rhyme schemes of "The Canterbury Tales" are such that one can remember the tales and then re-tell them with ease.

It's been a long while since I've read any of "The Canterbury Tales," but I do know that it is an ingenius piece of work. It is a collection of tales told among a group of travelers during a long journey. This is a must-read. It's funny, creative, and a great way to learn to break down those preconcieved notions.

Kim Edwards, "The Memory Keeper's Daughter"

"The Memory Keeper's Daughter," is nothing short of a page-turner. The plot unfolds at a steady pace and the characters are revealed in meaningful, succinct doses. I was instantly immersed in the story. It begins during a snow storm during which twins are born to David and Nora Henry. The male (Paul) of the twins is perfect, but the female (Phoebe) has Down Syndrome. David Henry decides to send the baby to a home, but he tells Nora that the baby had died. The next twenty years or so of the story display how that one decision has shaped the lives of all the characters.

I cried twice during the reading of this book. I admit that I've cried at a movie or two, but I can't say that I'v actually cried while reading a book before this one. Laugh out loud, yes. Cry? Not to my memory. There is a nurse in the story, Caroline Gill, who raises Phoebe as her own daughter, it is the story of Caroline and Phoebe which brings tears to my eyes.

This is a touching story in that it demonstrates the power and reason of love. The love of family, and the love of friends. The love of a down syndrome person, and the love of twins. By reading this book I have further understood how the choices that I make will affect not only me, but other people, and not just in the here and now but for many years to come.

Charlotte Bronte, "Jane Eyre"

Charlotte Bronte published "Jane Eyre" in 1847. It is a novel that I read in my early 30's upon realizing that I could not recall ever reading a novel written by a woman. Hence, "Jane Eyre" was my introduction not only into reading the classic books that I'd never read, but also a head-first fall into the fact that I'd had no female influences in my life up to that point. Charlotte Bronte, over a century and a half after she'd written "Jane Eyre," taught me that I should think like the individual that I am and not be a clown dancing to the tune of the society which I live in.

In the novel, Ms. Bronte's character stays true to herself throughout the entirity of the story. Through home-life hardships, dramatic confrontations, societal customs, and heartaches, Jane Eyre struggles through to solve problems, make peace, mend fences; whatever is needed to survive and hold her head up.

I consider myself fortunate to have read "Jane Eyre" as my introduction into women's literature in particular and classical literature in general. It held my attention from beginning to end, all the while hardly slowing my reading to even eat.

Ray Bradbury, "The Martian Chronicles"

Have you ever read "The Martian Chronicles," by Ray Bradbury? I remember when I read it many years ago, I was wondering why Bradbury was spending so much time describing the husband playing his music at the beginning of the story. Not only that, but I also remember that Bradbury was describing the scene from the wife's point of view.

I was well into the book before something about that opening scene struck me. Bradbury was showing the reader the loneliness and isolation that the wife felt because her husband neglected her needs. I remember realizing that the scene concentrated on the fact that the wife watched her husband's hands with a passionate yearning for his touch. The subtlety, grace and compassion with which Mr. Bradbury presented that scene is forever endeared in my heart as nothing short of genius.

I have not read much in the sci-fi genre, but I am a huge fan of Ray Bradbury because of his mastery of character development. Kudo's to Mr. Bradbury I'd say, for he knew that where a man's hands are; there his heart is also.

Stephen King, "Gray Matter"

The first book that I ever read by Stephen King was a collection of Short Stories entitled, "Night Shift." I was a Junior in high school when Stephen King spanned the miles to impart the character of the young, scared, lonely boy in the story, "Gray Matter," to me.
"Gray Matter" may not strike every reader the same way, but I brought to the story quite a bit of experience concerning alcohol. It's a great horror story in that the effects of a tainted beer wreeks havoc on the boy's father. What I delighted upon personally was the fact that the father became poisoned "gray matter," which is another word for the brain. The implication of the story is that innocent people were losing their lives because of his behavior. Another striking resemblence to my personal experiences was the fact that the father had to continuously feed the thirst of the gray matter. With beer.

Why this story delighted me, and endeared Mr. King to me for nearly thirty years now, is that I knew that I was not alone. What Stephen King did for me with that one story, besides making me a life-long fan, was show me that I was right. My feelings of isolation, fear, neglect, and anger, associated with my childhood were justified. I felt overwhelmingly akin to Mr. King. I felt that if the boy could get out alive, then I could too. I felt empowered for the first time in my young life.

I no longer read Stephen King's books. The last thing I read was more than fifteen years ago when I read "IT." One reason that I no longer read his stories is that I get too involved, can't put the book down, am unable to meet the responsibilitys of my "real" life. Another reason is, I've transferred my horror reading to the horrors of other realities.
Hats off to Mr. King for fantastic, believable characters and for helping us deal with the horrors in our lives.