Volume 20 Number 4

"What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.”

Epictetus, Stoic philosopher
July - September 2017

Archives

 

WILDE LAKE
Written by Laura Lippman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN: 978-0062083456
William Morrow

Heroes and Illusions

How much of our memory is accurate? How much of it is shaped by expectations? How much is shaped by whether we grew up as insiders or outsiders? Laura Lippman’s newest heroine, Lu Brandt, is on a quest for the truth, including some truths she may not be ready for in her latest stand-alone novel, Wilde Lake.

When newly elected District Attorney Lu Brandt takes on her first case, a homicide, she expects the case to be straightforward.

Murders are uncommon in Howard County and this one has no apparent rhyme nor reason. She is prosecuting a homeless man accused of beating a woman to death in her own apartment. He didn’t even know the victim. So why did he do it? And more importantly, why is this case dredging up memories of so many memories of Lu’s brother’s high school graduation night. Why was her brother’s friend attacked? Who was the true victim? And what role did her father, who was the county DA at the time, play in the outcome of the case?

This case challenges the accuracy of Lu Brandt’s memories and makes both her and the readers wonder what will it take for her to bring this case to an honorable resolution. Told in alternating past and present scenes the twists and turns keep readers flipping pages and guessing at outcomes. Lippman’s skilled plotting and sympathetic characters are first-rate. As usual, she hooks readers in and takes them on one roller coaster ride after another.

Who are the real heroes and who are the true villains? The answer you give today may change once you’ve read Wilde Lake.



 

Complex, Contradictory, and Entirely Human

LOVING ELEANOR: The intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok
Written by Susan Wittig Albert and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-0989203531
Persevero Press

Who exchanges 3300 letters? People with a great deal to say, or people with an emotional hole to fill. People living before e-mail. Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Susan Wittig Albert’s Loving Eleanor chronicles the friendship between these two women. It begins when AP political reporter Lorena Hickok is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt during her husband’s 1932 Presidential campaign. It follows their deepening relationship through the Depression, the New Deal, and into World War II.

Told from Lorena’s point of view, this is historical fiction that focuses on the desires of two women drawn together by loneliness, intellect, and a craving for adventures not normally available to women in the 1930s. Eleanor is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her family and her role as the nation’s First Lady. Although she and her husband do not divorce, they are estranged. Hick, an accomplished journalist, recognizes Eleanor’s need s. At the pinnacle of her career, she walks away from her journalistic accomplishments for the woman she loves. Is the sacrifice too great? Read the book and decide for yourself.

A journalist needs to remain objective, but when Hick was assigned to report on Eleanor Roosevelt, her objectivity melted. Respect led to curiosity, and the more she learned about Eleanor, the more she cared. Caring turned into love.

Author Susan Wittig Albert drops seamlessly into the character of Lorena, embodying her thoughts, desires, and conflicts. This is beautifully written, sensitive, and multi-faceted. Although the story was carefully researched and Albert used excerpts from many letters, parts are fictionalized. Nevertheless, you will feel like you are standing in Hick’s shoes as she reports stories and makes decisions about how to proceed with her life and her love.

Today’s career woman will discover or rediscover an admiration for the women who blazed trails in traditionally male fields. Readers will love the Hick’s self-discovery and Eleanor’s strategies for overcoming family frustrations. Most of all readers will find themselves reliving history, including the parts that never made it into American history textbooks. For an alternate look at women, politics, and the need to give and receive love, be sure to pick up a copy of Loving Eleanor.

The book and its author have received awards from Kirkus Best Books 2016, IPPY silver, Indie eBook Award (Library Journal), Best Book Award. She was shortlisted for the Ben Franklin, the Lammy, and Foreword Indies. Author Susan Albert added, “There may be another one in a couple of weeks.” This book is worth your time!

A longer version of this review appeared in Story Circle Book Reviews, www.storycirclebookreviews.org.

 

 

Form Meets the Universal

Ragazine: 86 Sonnets for the 21st Century
Written by Mary Barnet; art by Richard E. Schiff
(Casa de Snapdragon, 2015)

Ragazine: 86 Sonnets for the 21st Century

I was attracted to the title of this new poetry collection by Mary Barnet, the Founder/Editor of http://www.poetrymagazine.com because I know how difficult it is to write sonnets and admit giving up on them and concentrating on other forms—the triolet, villanelle, and pantoum. Mary Barnet’s first book from Gilford Press, The New American, was nominated for the Nobel Prize; Arrival, her second, is from Casa de Snapdragon.

The modern slant of 86 Sonnets for the 21st Century is highlighted by the geometric futuristic art of Richard E. Schiff, a Life Member of the Art Students League of New York http://www.richardeschiff.com: thirty-six full page black and white art pieces (each have titles) begin on page 2 and end on page 122. The poems are dated and are listed in a title index; like the title indicates, there are eighty-six, and some have dedications such as the charming, “Mousey” to Robert Burns.

The New Jersey poet examines the seemingly ordinary such as listening to the radio, watching birds, noting the impact of Hurricane Sandy, while exploring the passage of time, death, fate, war, the animal in the human species, and confronting eternity. Many sonnets have one word titles and one of my favorites is one: “Mirror” which raises several important questions about human destiny.

In the poem, “Most” the poet asks:

“Perhaps, there is a way for us
to win this game of chance?”

Reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, “Regrets” begins

“I know a thing or two.”
but I hardly know more.

and the ending lines

“My mind strains the day as through a sieve;
despite all my efforts, I have taken a fall.
If only earlier in life, some bridge I had crossed.”

Since sonnets have only 14 lines, here’s an sample:

“Pomposity”

Another mountain to climb?
Or is it a hill?
Do I know the way still?
What’s at the top this time?
Merely a cocktail with lime
or some fulfillment of my will?
Perhaps my mind will fill,
and cast off all pride as if it were a crime.
Can I see my life without blame?
Looking down on a world of simple men,
cast aside grandiosity?
Wanting lust and greed to tame,
must I set down my pen
or simply throw down all I cannot be?

Ms. Barnet asks, explores hard questions, the universals, as well as the less serious in a challenging poetical form. She uses a traditional form to address contemporary life that surprise and delight; it’s clear she enjoyed composing the sonnets and is an accomplished poet.

I would have enjoyed an Introduction or Preface by the poet and a Foreword by another. I believe the poems have not appeared in other magazines or books as there are no Acknowledgments. The modern art helps make this even more an outstanding example of using traditional form by an important contemporary American poet.
 

Carol Smallwood’s books include Divining the Prime Meridian (WordTech Communications, 2015); Women, Work, and the Web (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching is on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers. Ms. Smallwood, a multiple Pushcart nominee, has three poetry collections and one chapbook of formal and free verse.

A longer version of this review was published in Ragazine.

 

Dark Secrets

The Nightingale: A Novel
Written by Kristin Hannah and Reviewed by Ann McCauley
ISBN: 978-0312577223
St. Martin’s Press, 2015

Kristin Hannah’s epic historical novel, The Nightingale opens in Oregon in 1995 but soon takes us back to France to 1939. On page one, the protagonist, Vianne Mauriac, says, “The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.”

Vianne, an elderly widow pragmatically faces her own pending death. Julien, her doctor son, reproaches her when she insists on taking the ancient trunk from the attic wither to the nursing home. He does not yet understand his mother had a challenging full life as a survivor before he was born. Each day Vianne’s past becomes more real than her present. She is determined to return to Paris one last time. Julian reluctantly accompanies his mother, and despite her age and illness, he sees her as if for the first time once they are in Paris.

Vianne and her husband immigrated to the USA from France after the war with their two children. Julien was a baby and had no memories of the land of his birth. His sister, Sophie, was fifteen years older and remembered the hardships of the war years, though she never talked to him about it. They immersed themselves in creating a life here and did not talk about life before America, so Julien had no way to appreciate the significance of his mother’s immigration.

Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters who live in a small French village become estranged due to their opposing views on how to deal with the impending German occupation and its consequences. After Vianne’s husband, Antonine, is sent to the front; she has her daughter to provide for and protect. A German officer is assigned to live in their home; he is a kind gentleman, totally unlike the one who replaces him for the last months of the war. Outraged at the thought of aiding the enemy, Isabelle almost immediately excuses herself to move back to Paris to care for their ill father, where in reality, she becomes a fearless underground resistance fighter.

The chaotic Earth-shaking evacuation of Paris hours before the Germans arrived was one of the most frightening passages I’ve ever read. Vianne actually felt the land beneath her home tremble as thousands and thousands of weary people trampled past her home all night long.

Kristin Hannah has outdone her previous best work, another WWII epic, Winter Garden, about the Siege of St. Petersburg. Her research and writing are flawless as she weaves the threads of dark secrets throughout her novel. Her characters are likable and well developed. The pacing kept me turning pages as the tension thickened. If you like to read WWII historical fiction, this is the book for you.

A longer version of this review appeared in Story Circle Book Reviews, www.storycirclebookreviews.org.
 

Ann McCauley received a Master’s in Creative Writing from Wilkes University in 2014. She is the author of two novels; Runaway Grandma, (2007) and Mother Love, (2012).  She’s also a contributor to the anthology, Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, (2012), and Women Writing After Retirement, (2014).  Ann also reviews books for WPSU, her local NPR radio station and Story Circle.org.

 

 

 
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