Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Complete Works of Primo Levi

The Complete Works of Primo Levi
Liveright Publishing: 9/28/15
eBook review copy, 3002 pages
ISBN-13: 9780871404565

The Complete Works of Primo Levi  is a very highly recommended three volume set of the works of Primo Levy. Years in the making, this set represents a monumental endeavor and fitting tribute to Primo Levy. This is the definitive English translation collection.

Known to English-speaking readers mainly for his writings on the Holocaust, Primo Levy "did not want to be characterized only as a Holocaust writer, and the label does him a regrettable injustice, for he was also a prolific writer of stories, essays, novels, and poems, on a wide range of scientific, literary, and autobiographical subjects."

As the introduction from the editor says, "These new volumes, by presenting Levi in all his facets, will enable English-speaking readers to encounter for the first time the entire range of his versatile, inventive, curious, crystalline intelligence, will enable English-speaking readers to enrich their knowledge of Levi. In doing so, they will discover a writer they may not have known, one whom Italo Calvino called among 'the most important and gifted writers of our time.'" The volumes are arrange chronologically and contain many works that were hard to find or previously left untranslated into English. There are notes from the translators after many of the selections.

The three volumes include:

Editor's Introduction
Ann Goldstein Chronology
Ernesto Ferrero Editor's Acknowledgments
1. IF THIS IS A MAN Translated by Stuart Woolf
2. THE TRUCE Translated by Ann Goldstein
3. NATURAL HISTORIES Translated by Jenny McPhee
4. FLAW OF FORM Translated by Jenny McPhee

1. THE PERIODIC TABLE Translated by Ann Goldstein
2. THE WRENCH Translated by Nathaniel Rich
3. UNCOLLECTED STORIES AND ESSAYS: 1949-1980  Translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli
4. LILITH Translated by Ann Goldstein
5. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? Translated by Antony Shugaar

1. COMPLETE POEMS Translated by Jonathan Galassi
2. OTHER PEOPLE'S TRADES Translated by Antony Shugaar
3. STORIES AND ESSAYS Translated by Anne M. Appel
4. THE DROWNED AND THE SAVED Translated by Michael Moore
5. UNCOLLECTED STORIES AND ESSAYS: 1981-1987 Translated by Alessandra Bastagli and Francesco Bastagli
Primo Levi in America
Robert Weil Notes on the Texts
Domenico Scarpa About the Translators

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Liveright Publishing for review purposes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Knopf Doubleday: 9/29/15
eBook review copy, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385540353


The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood is very highly recommended, brilliant surrealistic dystopian novel which will likely be banned somewhere in the future for any number of hot topics it contains. I can't help but think that the release was purposefully planned to be during this week, banned book week.

Charmaine and Stan are a young couple who have lost their jobs and their house. They are lucky they have a car to live in and escape from those who aren't so fortunate and might have larceny or worse on their minds. Charmaine is working as a bartender to make a little money for the two. When Charlene sees an ad by Positron for Consilience, a city with jobs and security, she and Stan decide to check it out. The deal is it is a closed system and you sign up for life.

The set up for  Consilience/Positron is based on a contained population/workforce that shares prison/town duties. "Medium-size towns with large penitentiaries could maintain themselves, and the people inside such towns could live in middle-class comfort. And if every citizen were either a guard or a prisoner, the result would be full employment: half would be prisoners, the other half would be engaged in the business of tending the prisoners in some way or other. Or tending those who tended them. And since it was unrealistic to expect certified criminality from 50 percent of the population, the fair thing would be for everyone to take turns: one month in, one month out. Think of the savings, with every dwelling serving two sets of residents! It was time-share taken to its logical conclusion. Hence the twin town of Consilience/Positron."

There is no homelessness, everyone is employed, and the profits go to keeping the system running and everyone happy. Charmaine and Stan are satisfied, for a while, but soon they seem to be feeling some discontent with their carefully planned lives, especially when they become obsessed with the couple who live in their house on alternate months. Their separate sexual involvement with this couple sets them up as pawns to be involved in a complex scheme.

Atwood's writing is astute, exceptional, and clever. The story is innovative and absurd. Above all else, The Heart Goes Last is entertaining, even as it incorporates and questions many societal controversies in the plot. And I am talking about the kind of controversies that keep talk shows on the air and set blogs burning. There is adult language and sex, which seems to bother many, but perceptive readers are going to see the social commentary underneath the farce-like situations and satire.

My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Not on Fire, but Burning

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek
Melville House: 9/8/15
eBook review copy, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781612194530

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek is a highly recommended genre twisting novel. It is part sci-fi, part thriller, part speculative dystopia and opens with a bang that should capture every reader's attention.

Skylar, a 20 year old college student, is babysitting when the incident happens. When she looks out of the picture window she sees a bright metallic object hit the Golden Gate Bridge. A mushroom cloud forms above San Francisco and radioactive fallout is everywhere. Skylar starts walking to try and get out and to her parents where she knows her beloved little brother, Dorian, is safe. No one knows what the object was, but some say the words "Air Arabia" could be seen on the object.

Years later Dorian is 12 and knows two things: he misses his sister and hates all Muslims. He is having dreams about a sister that seemingly never existed. She is not in photos. His parents say she didn't exist. Dorian knows she did because his dreams/visions about her are so real. He also dreams about killing Muslims.

In this future America, the country is divided into territories and all Muslims have been interned in the Dakotas, where the former inhabitants have been relocated. When the neighbor, a veteran from Gulf War III adopts Karim, a Muslim orphan from the internment camps and brings him to the neighborhood, introducing him to the neighborhood boys, trouble is bound to happen. Racial slurs slip out and prejudices are revealed, on both sides. Fear and grievances continue to multiply and build up between the Arab and Americans. Is the hatred and fear the two groups hold for each other real or the result of prejudices or incomplete information?

In Not on Fire, but Burning Hrbek has penned a well-written, thoughtful novel with a social conscious. The prose and insight into the psyche of each character is carefully crafted as each of them struggle with societal expectations, their own emotions, and the reality. The result is a multilayered novel that transcends genre. The one drawback for me is the switch between first and third person in the narrative. I found it disconcerting and this threw me off kilter for a good portion of the book. Since I had an advanced reading copy the transitions may be better noted or delineated in the final version.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Melville House for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Leaving Montana

Leaving Montana by Thomas Whaley
Sakura Publishing: 7/7/14
eBook review copy, 226 pages
ISBN-13: 9780991180776

Leaving Montana by Thomas Whaley is a highly recommended novel about an adult child who survived a highly dysfunctional childhood.

Benjamin Sean Quinn is a forty year old man who, from all outward appearances, has a perfect life. He and his partner of 14 years have 2 daughters. They live in a well-appointed home in a prestigious neighborhood. But Ben is "as angry as hell. Angry to the core." In Leaving Montana he has chosen to confront once and for all the messiness that was his childhood and the hidden secrets it holds in an attempt to rid his life of the anger.

Ben tells the story of his childhood with battling parents Carmella and Sean while going on his current day trip to Montana. His parents are always referred to by their surnames, never an affectionate mom and dad.  Most certainly we know that his childhood is the root of his anger, but there are more secrets to be uncovered. The story of his parents' marriage is heart breaking, but so is the anger that Ben has held on to for far too long. Ben is an arrogant man, but freely admits his flaws and is able to laugh at them.

This is a well written novel written in first person about dysfunctional, embattled families and secrets. The big secret here was one I suspected almost immediately, but the enjoyment was in the journey.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Sakura Publishing for review purposes.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Southern Journey

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg
Oxmoor House: 9/15/15
eBook review copy, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780848746391

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg is a very highly recommended collection of 72 essays on life in the South.

I'll admit I fell a little bit in love with Bragg and the South while reading these stories. They are comfortable, pull-up-a-chair-to-the-kitchen-table-and-let's-just-chat-and-tell-stories-for-awhile selections. And it needs to be in or near the kitchen because there will be eating, and talking about eating and good food with no apologies over calorie content. As he notes, "But grease is good. It has shortened many lives, probably my own, but is a life of rice cakes really life, or just passing time?" Bragg is a master at telling stories and I was totally entranced through every one (except, begging your forgiveness, the football stories.)

In the introduction Bragg write: "I hope you enjoy these stories, but more than that I hope you see value in the people whose lives are pressed between these pages. I have been told, a thousand times or more by kind people, that it can be like looking in a mirror, looking at people, places, and things that are more than familiar, and at feelings that seem lifted from their own hope chests, sock drawers, recipe books, and family secrets. Maybe that is what writers mean, when they talk about a sense of place."

He really does succeed in creating a sense of place and describing his southern journey with humor, charm, and reflection. Bragg also notes in the introduction: "It suits me, here. My people tell their stories of vast red fields and bitter turnip greens and harsh white whiskey like they are rocking in some invisible chair, smooth and easy even in the terrible parts, because the past has already done its worst. The joys of this Southern life, we polish like old silver. We are good at stories. We hoard them, like an old woman in a room full of boxes, but now and then we pull out our best, and spread them out like dinner on the ground. We talk of the bad year the cotton didn’t open, and the day my cousin Wanda was Washed in the Blood. We cherish the past. We buff our beloved ancestors till they are smooth of sin, and give our scoundrels a hard shake, though sometimes we cannot remember exactly which is who."

How can you not appreciate the flow of descriptive phrases there and hear the Southern accents gently visiting and sharing the many stories collected over a lifetime. There were so many descriptions I took note of or laughed at, or agreed with the sentiment. How about driving on a long road trip "with two states behind me and a thousand miles to go, scanning a radio thick with yammering bullies whose mamas did not love them enough." I am putting everyone on notice. I am going to use that turn of phrase, "yammering bullies whose mamas did not love them enough."

And I am in the Amen section concerning allowing kids to play in a good mud hole. "The children start school now in August. They say it has to do with air-conditioning, but I know sadism when I see it. I think a bunch of people who were not allowed to stomp in a mud hole when they were young - who were never allowed to hold translucent tadpoles in their hands and watch their hearts move - decided to make sure that no child would ever have the necessary time to contemplate a grand mud hole ever again." My own children did not have the good red dirt, but they did have mud holes over several years and states they could lay claim to. As for my childhood, my mother was also known for her use of bleach.

While laughing I also completely understood the sentiment when Bragg commented that "I knew, the day I saw my first pair of skinny jeans on a man, that I no longer have any place in this world, and should probably just go live by myself in a hole in the ground." "But there is no designer on this planet who has ever fashioned a garment with me in mind... and the camo rack at the Walmart does not count."

As a final note Bragg contemplates Southern literature: "Scholars have long debated the defining element of great Southern literature. Is it a sense of place? Fealty to lost causes? A struggle to transcend the boundaries of class and race? No. According to the experts, it’s all about a mule. And not just any old mule - only the dead ones count. Ask the experts."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Oxmoor House for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories

The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories
Dover: 9/16/15
eBook review copy, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780486794648

The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories is a highly recommended collection of twenty nine stories featuring cats. Although a majority of the stories will appeal to cat lovers, there are a few that won't. As with any anthology, skip the ones you don't like to move on to the many you will.

Contents in this collection include:
Tobermory by Saki
The Cat that Walked by Himself by Rudyard Kipling
The Cats of Ulthar by H. P. Lovecraft
Cats’ Paradise by Émile Zola
The Cat’s Grave by Natsume Sōseki
The Black and White Dynasties by Théophile Gautier
Midshipman, the Cat by John Coleman Adams
The Cat by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault
The Watchers by Bram Stoker
Zut by Guy Wetmore Carryl
The Afflictions of an English Cat by Honoré de Balzac
Gipsy by Booth Tarkington
The Blue Dryad by G. H. Powell
Madame Jolicoeur’s Cat by Thomas A. Janvier
Calvin by Charles Dudley Warner
The Queen’s Cat by Peggy Bacon
Plato: The Story of a Cat by A. S. Downs
Frisk’s First Rat by Charles W. Chesnutt
Aunt Cynthia’s Persian Cat by L. M. Montgomery
How a Cat Played Robinson Crusoe by Charles G. D. Roberts
From the Diary of a Cat by Edwina Stanton Babcock
A Black Affair by W. W. Jacobs
The Yellow Terror by W. L. Alden
A Talk with Mark Twain’s Cat, the Owner Being Invisible by The New York Times
On Cats by Guy de Maupassant
The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat by Saki
My Cat by Michel de Montaigne
Tom Quartz by Mark Twain

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Dover for review purposes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Short History of Disease

A Short History of Disease by Sean Martin
Oldcastle Books: 9/15/15
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781843444190

A Short History of Disease by Sean Martin is a very highly recommended concise, easy to read history that presents a good overview of infectious and non-infectious diseases.  

The book begins with definitions and origins and then is divided up by time periods, from prehistory to modern times. "Analyzing case studies including the Black Death, Spanish Flu, cholera, leprosy, syphilis, cancer, and Ebola, this book systematically maps the development of trends and the latest research on disease into a concise and enlightening timeline." Naturally anything with such a broad scope is not going to contain an exhaustive amount of information covering every faucet of every disease. It does have a nice balance of history and diseases, including how society has handled them over the decades - and spread them.

Contents include: Introduction: Definitions, Origins; Chapter One: Prehistory; Chapter Two: Antiquity; Chapter Three: The Dark and Middle Ages; Chapter Four: The New World; Chapter Five: Early Modern to 1900; Chapter Six: The Twentieth Century; Chapter Seven: New Diseases; Notes, Glossary of Diseases, Bibliography, and Index. 

I'll freely admit that I have a fondness for books on diseases and outbreaks of various epidemics or pandemics, so this accessible survey of diseases is right up my alley. I thought Martin did an excellent job presenting the history of diseases in a way that doesn't seem too daunting or overwhelming while including a wealth of pertinent information. As is also my wont, I was thrilled to see that A Short History of Disease includes notes, a bibliography, and index.  I really liked the inclusion of a  glossary of diseases which I think could be helpful for the novice.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Oldcastle Books for review purposes.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Her Final Breath

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni
Thomas & Mercer: 9/15/15
eBook review copy, 424 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503945029
#2 in the Tracy Crosswhite Series

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni is a very highly recommended police procedural. Homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite, who we were first introduced to in My Sister's Grave, is back with the Seattle Police Department's Violent Crime Squad and on a new investigation.

When a dancer at a strip club is found strangled in a motel room, the case bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous murder of a dancer. In the previous case, Tracy's boss, Captain Johnny Nolasco, relegated it to the cold case files after only a month in an attempt to make Tracy look bad. The ongoing public outcry did nothing to help public relations. Tracy is even left a noose, which could be a message about the case or it may mean she is a personal target for someone.

Now, after this second girl turns up dead, it is clear that a serial killer is on the loose. It appears he is targeting strippers and leaving their bodies in cheap motel rooms. He has been nicknamed "The Cowboy" because of his sadistic bondage method using rope. He hogties his victims with a noose around their necks, resulting in the victims eventually strangling themselves.

Tracy is leading the task force to find the killer. Even as her team is following leads and trying to find the killer before another victim is chosen, her boss, Nolasco, is still out to see her fail. Tracy realizes that these new murders resemble one from 9 years earlier, one Nolasco and his partner handled. The suspected killer was convicted and is still incarcerated, but Tracy pulls up the file and secretly has her boyfriend, lawyer Dan O’Leary, investigate the case.

It always nice to see strong, well-written female leads and Tracy Crosswhite fits that description. Dugoni has done an excellent job with character development, bringing Tracy to life. Even more importantly, Dugoni has done an exceptional job in plot development too. Her Final Breath is a police procedural/mystery that kept me totally engaged from beginning to end and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I'll be looking forward to the next Tracy Crosswhite novel.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Thomas & Mercer for review purposes.

The Blue Guitar

The Blue Guitar by John Banville
Knopf Doubleday: 9/15/15
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385354264

The Blue Guitar by John Banville is a recommended novel about petty thief, former painter, and aging lothario Oliver Otway Orme.

Olly is having a mid-life crisis. In The Blue Guitar he is sharing his thoughts and observations with us. As a narrator Olly is equal parts pretentious and self-effacing. As a man he is nearly fifty, short, stout, and married. He was a painter of some renown at one time but no longer paints, having given it up for existential reasons. He is also a thief. He lets us know right away that this is so and tells us: "The objects, the artefacts, that I purloin - there is a nice word, prim and pursed - are of scant value for the most part. Oftentimes their owners don’t even miss them." Olly has never been caught.

Now Olly is stealing Polly, the wife of his friend Marcus. He comments, "Believe me, when it comes to first times, stealing and love have a lot in common." When their affair is discovered, Olly runs away to his family home to hide, although the fact that he chose to go there was really never a secret since it is the first place both Polly and his wife look. Olly truly is a man filled with regret who wants to be rescued from himself.

Olly is an unlikeable and unreliable narrator, but Banville does such an excellent job describing scenes, creating this farcical character Oliver Otway Orme (O.O.O.) that you will follow all of Olly's narcissistic prose and catch the humor embedded in the descriptions and situations. The novel is set in the Victorian Era and the language of the book reflects this.

Banville is an excellent, accomplished writer, which is what saves The Blue Guitar. His vocabulary, descriptions, and observations are insightful and intelligent. The plot is very simple, though, so the majority of the book is Olly's ruminating. The plot in the first part is especially slowed paced.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Above the Waterfall

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
HarperCollins: 9/8/15
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062417015

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash is a very highly recommended novel set in a small Appalachian town about two lonely people struggling to live with their haunted pasts. It is an eloquently written, poetic novel that is both a tribute to the healing power of nature and a mystery.

Becky is a park ranger at Locust Creek Park who finds solace in the beauty of the North Carolina mountains. Becky carries many scars from her childhood when she survived a school shooting, and in her recent past when she believed in the wrong man. She finds comfort and peace in nature and needs the natural world to survive. She references heavily the Victorian poet Gerard   Manley Hopkins who found beauty in nature as well as the cave paintings of Lascaux.

Les is a sheriff on the verge of retirement. He is having a cabin built where he plans to retire and paint. He just has a few things to clear up before he goes, like another meth bust (and you never know how things can go wrong with meth-heads) and the truth behind the tension between Gerald Blackwelder, an irascible old farmer, and a new fishing resort. Les has some regrets in his past too that he is trying to deal with, as well as a debt that has never been repaid.

The novel alternates between the voices of Les and Becky. They are both wounded souls who take strength from observing and being in nature. They are also close friends and are able to speak about their past with each other. They seemingly want to have a closer relationship with each other, and have taken steps in that direction, but they are still reticent to make any real commitment.

While both voices propel the story forward, Becky's chapters are poetic and lyrical while Les's are written in a more traditional manner. The frank descriptions of meth addiction are brutal. Both Les and Becky have to "navigate currents of disillusionment and betrayal that will force them to question themselves and test their tentative bond..." when dealing with the dispute between the fishing resort and Gerald. Becky is a staunch supporter of Gerald and perhaps his only friend now. Les was friends with an employee for the fishing resort and, as a longtime resident of the town, he knows all the people involved, their past actions, and where to look for answers.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Lost Landscape

The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates
HarperCollins: 9/8/15
eBook review copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062408679

"What is vivid in memory is the singular, striking, one-of-a-kind event or episode, encapsulated as if in amber.... not routine but what violates routine.
Which is why the effort of writing a memoir is so fraught with peril, and even its small successes ringed by melancholy. The fact is - We have forgotten most of our lives. All of our landscapes are soon lost in time."

The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates is a very highly recommended collection of 28 pieces about her childhood, to adulthood and shares some of the incidents that have shaped her as a writer. Many of these stories have appeared in other publications and have been revised for this collection of the landscapes that have shaped her career as a writer. They are little vignettes of time caught in amber rather than a complete story of her life.

Oates grew up in an impoverished area of rural western New York State on her family's farm. Young Joyce had a special red hen, Happy Chicken, who was her beloved pet. She went to the same one room school house her mother did as a child and went on to attend high school in Buffalo. She was then a scholarship girl at Syracuse University and went on to get her masters at the University of Wisconsin. She shares her bouts with insomnia, first experiences with death, a friend's suicide, another's sexual abuse, as well as some of the stories that inspired her to write several of her novels. She has a moving piece about her autistic sister.

There were several things she described in these stories that brought vivid memories of my life to the forefront. I remember my grandparent's breakable, fragile Christmas ornaments that also included strings of bubble lights that fascinated all of us grandchildren.  On her step-grandparents farm there is a pear orchard that she describes: "On the trees, the pears were greeny-hard as rocks for weeks as if reluctant to ripen; then, overnight, the pears were “ripe” - very soon “over-ripe” - fallen to the ground, buzzing with flies and bees." I remember a house we lived in when I was young, before attending school, that had a backyard filled with pear trees. Her descriptions vividly brought to mind the danger those pears represented, when they were over ripe, on the ground, and all sorts of wasps and bees and insects were swarming the area.

Obviously these pieces are extraordinarily well written, with details lovingly, gently, carefully describing specific events and memories. She shares some hurtful events too, although carefully modulated by time. Her parents are lovingly and warmly described creating a tribute to their memory. This is an excellent collection of pieces for a memoir.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

Escape Points

Escape Points by Michele Weldon
Chicago Review Press; 9/1/15
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781613733523
Escape Points by Michele Weldon is a very highly recommended memoir  about a single mother trying to raise three sons (with an absent ex), and survive cancer. Escape Points chronicles twenty-five years of her life after her divorce.

She divorces her physically and emotionally abusive ex-husband  when their boys are young (6, 4, and 1). He then removes himself completely from their lives (and doesn't pay any support). Weldon shouldered forward, carved out a career for herself, and made a life for her and her boys. This included many, many wrestling matches for all three of her boys. As she is struggling to keep everything together, she receives the news that she has cancer and now must now juggle daily radiation treatments. "You can do it all. You just cannot do it all well all of the time..... Trying to make the most of the life you have been granted is a noble thing to do. And the grace arrives."

"I knew I could not make up for the father who left my sons. I may never be able to forgive myself for choosing a man who would treat our sons this way. But his story is not mine. Mine is a story of what happens when the door closes and you stand waist-high in the murky puddles brought on from someone else’s tsunami. When the shock of the water subsides and you realize you would never drown, you count your blessings."
Weldon feels guilty that she chose to marry someone who would go away; someone who would willfully leave his children and place his desires first. "I could do my part, but I could never do both parts." This realization caused her to seek out and turn to men of honor who could be a good male role model, including her brother and an incredible wrestling coach who went above and beyond the norm to take care of all of his "boys".
I just wanted to hug her when Weldon wrote: "Children can forgive many things - the hurts, the failures, the mistakes. But they cannot forgive you forgetting that they come first." Yup, all children, even older children, want the knowledge that they are loved unconditionally. And it hurts when they aren't. I also sort of want to hang out with Weldon and swap stories, especially when her non-support paying ex sent the boys these odd messages about his needs and desires without ever once saying he was sorry for everything he had done to them, and then asking for their forgiveness.
Weldon noted that: "I heard a story on NPR a while back about a 108-year-old woman who managed to outlive and outwit most of her family and friends. She had what experts called 'adaptive competence,' a powerful trait that allows and inspires you to view your life as half full regardless of setbacks. I think I have that. I know my sons do." I wish them all the best.

The memoir is well written and organized by dates so you can keep track of the time period. While I'll be the first to admit that not all parts held my rapt attention (I like wrestling but I did skim through some of the wrestling match discussions), I think, in totality, this is an excellent memoir and should resonate deeply with the many single mothers out there raising sons.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Chicago Review Press for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Telling

The Telling by Jo Baker
Vintage, 368 pages
eBook review copy, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804172653

The Telling by Jo Baker is a recommended, atmospheric ghost story that alternates between two time periods, contemporary and Gothic.

Rachel's mother has died and she has went to pack up and clean out the house
called Reading Room Cottage that her parents had purchased for a vacation home for their retirement. She had planned to get the chore done quickly, especially since she left her husband Mark, and a new baby at home, but soon realizes that it is going to take longer. Two centuries before this, housemaid Lizzy had lived in the same house. Lizzy found the books of their new lodger, Mr. Moore, irresistible. Today, Rachel is inexplicably drawn to the bookcase and certain books and titles that Lizzy previously read.

Baker brings the lives of both women into sharp focus in alternating chapters, although the period details and class inequalities of Lizzy's time will appeal much more to those who enjoy historical fiction. While this is a ghost story, this is not a creepy novel. It consists more of two parallel stories that are set in the same cottage. The actual haunting doesn't really feel convincing to me.
Nothing firmly connected the two women beyond the cottage itself.

The writing is quite good and the historical descriptions interesting, but, even though I enjoyed the book, it ended up being a satisfactory read but nothing special for me.
Lizzy's story was more compelling than Rachel's for me.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Vintage for review purposes.

Dirt: A Love Story

Dirt: A Love Story by Barbara Richardson
ForeEdge: 9/1/15
eBook review copy, 200 pages
ISBN-13: 9781611687668

Dirt: A Love Story
by Barbara Richardson is a very highly recommended anthology for dirt lovers everywhere. For those of us who love soil/dirt, let's speak the truth right now. As Jana Richman so eloquently points out: "Gorgeous, sexy people dig in dirt. People who age well. People who collect beauty in the creases of crow’s feet. People with sturdy hands and good minds."
"The poetry of the earth is never dead." John Keats

In Dirt thirty-six artists, scientists, and renowned writers discuss and extol the virtues of soil, dirt, and the importance of it. The anthology contains essays by "writers, travelers, biologists, sculptors, green architects, terrestrial ecologists, geomorphologists, soil scientists, environmental economists, Sufi teachers, medicine women, farmers and the daughters and sons of farmers, and people who generally like to live close to the land." For all of them, well, us, the truth is that dirt makes us unaccountably happy.

This collection is divided into five sections. The first section "Land Centered," consists of essays by "flagrant dirt fanatics." The second section, "Kid Stuff" explores our early contact with dirt. The third is “Dirt Worship,” on claiming our ancestry with the dirt. The fourth is "Dirt Facts," which offers insights into the scientific processes within dirt. The fifth and last section, "Native Soil," talks about the challenge of loving difficult ground.

Those of us who love dirt and growing things understand the sentiments of Deborah Koons Garcia: "Soil is one of the true miracles of this planet." Everything that has ever been on the earth eventually returns to the dirt. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is a fact. The transformation and processes to return to dirt encompass changes and processes that few people think about.

I know my love of gardening and landscaping seems to be inborn, an innate instinct that can only be met by digging in the dirt. The dirt calls out to me as loudly as it calls out to my children. When they were young, they were mud babies. They needed to play in the mud, getting covered head to toe. No scolding could keep them from this preoccupation with dirt. Perhaps there is an explanation for this. Peter Heller notes that, "I read that dirt has pheromones, or something, that come out of the ground and mix with our endocrine systems and give us a sense of well-being. In this way dirt is like potatoes and tobacco and opium."

This is a wonderfully organized and well thought out compilation of writing about dirt. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Contents include:

Foreword: Scratching the Surface by Pam Houston
Preface: The God of Dirt by Barbara Richardson

My Life in Dirt by Edward Kanze, Naturalist
The Great Beneath by Linda Hogan, Author
Dirt Fantasies by Jana Richman, Author
Praise to the Transformers by Janisse Ray, Author
Glosses on Dirt by Erica Olsen, Author
Soil Versus Dirt: A Reverie on Getting Down to Earth by Kayann Short, CSA Farmer
Digging In by Elias Amidon, Sufi Teacher

Dirt Princess by Julene Bair, Author
The First Worm by John T. Price, Author
The Language of Clay by Roxanne Swentzell, Sculptor
Dirt: Imago Ignota by John Keeble, Author
Mud Pies by Chris Larson, Green Architect
Services at the Church of Dirt by Marilyn Krysl, Poet

Dreaming in Dirt by BK Loren, Author
Tao of Dirt by Liz Stephens, Author
The Life of Soil by Bernd Heinrich, Biologist
Dirt in Love by Barbara Richardson, Author
Dirt House by Peter Heller, Author
Sinking Down into Heaven by Jeanne Rogers, Artist and Author

The Soil’s Breath by Tyler Volk, Biologist
Earthmover by Lisa Knopp, Author
Worm Herder: A Q and A With Dr. Diana H. Wall by Carrie Visintainer, Journalist
Seeing Soils by Deborah Koons Garcia, Filmmaker
The Next Big Thing in Soil Science by Carl Rosen, Soil Scientist
A Badge of Honor by Tom Wessels, Terrestrial Ecologist
Dirty Business by David R. Montgomery, Geomorphologist
Feed Your Soil by Bob Cannard and Fred Cline, Sustainable Farmer and Vintner

Hostile Takeovers: An Ode to Guts and Gardens by Laura Pritchett, Author
Fight the Power by Eban Goodstein, Environmental Economist
Born Again: Loving the Least Worst Land in Mississippi by Donald G. Schueler, Author
Stewards of the Land by Wes Jackson, Agricultural Activist
We Are Soil by Vandana Shiva, Soil and Seed Activist
City Dirt by Karen Washington, Urban Farmer
Soil Versus Oil - Kale Versus Koch by Atina Diffley, Organic Farmer

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of ForeEdge for review purposes.