Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Written by Phil Cousineau and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin

Good Luck, Mrs. Brown
Written by Rita Keeley Brown and Reviewed by Carol Smallwood
Whether you write at midnight or dawn, you need to stoke the fires of your imagination from time to time. Everyone does. Phil Cousineau’s Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night’s Journey Into Day is filled with pieces of poetry and prose that will light your way.

He’s divided his collection into five sections: The Twilight Zone, Nighthawks, A Hard Day’s Night, The Dream Factory, and Morning Has Broken. Each section explores the title concept in evocative prose and stimulating poetry. His authors span the centuries, from Ovid and Rumi’s day to Sharon Olds and Mary Oliver.

In the poem from which the title was taken “Burning the Midnight Oil,” American poet Jeff Poniewaz says, “When night falls, just go to sleep. / And if you awake in the night with an idea / for a poem you just must jot it down, / light a candle or turn on your trusty / solar-powered mini-flashlight.” Poems are flashes of inspiration, as eternal as a candle and as contemporary as that flashlight.

His collection takes us from twilight, through darkness, into fantasies, problems, and dreams, and brings us out at dawn with hope. American writer, theologian, and Civil Rights Leader Howard Thurman says, “Is there any wonder that deeper than idea and concept is the insistent conviction that the night can never stay, that winter is ever moving into spring?”

Read the pieces one at a time, hunt and peck for what will fill your soul, or read the book straight through. There’s truly something for everyone in this sensitive, thought-provoking anthology.

Inspiring Writers
A memoir of twenty-one chapters mostly by the mother but also by her six children and husband: the input by the children are in italics and unedited; the husband’s account of his auditory hallucinations of voices. Mental illness is a topic that too often it is one that is hidden in families and yet affects so many directly or indirectly.

The couple met in the 1950’s in California where Rita was a student at UCLA; Greg was very intelligent, handsome, from various foster homes until coming to live with his father and new stepmother. Rita was from a stable Catholic home.

The couple had several good years of marriage before Greg’s mental illness began to show itself in an era that “…good wives did not dispute their husbands.”  Without a dishwasher the children helped so Rita shares: “I learned a lot about what was going on in their lives during those kitchen sessions.”

Greg was diagnosed with manic depression and began the first of his hospital stays. He was next diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and Rita is unable to get any information about Greg’s mother. When Greg went off lithium, his episodes that followed were worse.

Rita includes diary entries she wrote while working two jobs and several dreams she interprets to help her cope with her feelings. A daughter writes about what she remembers in junior high about her father: “I was very close to him and could feel his stare boring through me. I don’t recall anything after that.” Greg’s abuse to his son results in legal action and he is diagnosed with bi-polar affective disorder.

The author shares her torment of deciding what is the best thing to do in managing finances, keeping the family house, and considering an annulment. Her letters to God are very real. She learns how to be independent, decides “…couch potato-ism is not for me. I have grandchildren who have asked that I teach them to play the piano.”

The memoir will appeal to women who have faced similar problems and the difficulty of getting a correct diagnoses and treatment of mental illness.
It also takes a look at a marriage that took place before the women’s liberation movement and Vatican II. Well worth the reading and a memoir you will find hard to put down after the first page.

Carol Smallwood’s most recent books include Divining the Prime Meridian (WordTech Communications, 2015); and Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Reviewer Ann McCauley and editor B. Lynn Goodwin both have pieces in Writing After Retirement.
Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night
Written by Barbara J. Taylor and Reviewed by Ann McCauley
A Haunting Story
Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, Barbara Taylor’s debut novel, is one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read. It’s set in Scranton, PA’s coal mining community in 1913. As a coal miner’s granddaughter, this story resonated with me. I gained insight into what my grandfather’s life must have been like. He died of lung cancer, the scourge of the mines, at age 52.

Like other coal mining towns, the coal industry took over Scranton’s culture back in the early 1900’s: Mining families lived in drafty company houses and shopped in company stores. There was a constant threat of mining accidents …when the whistle blew, everyone ran to the mines to see who was lost in a cave-in. And if a father was killed in a mining accident, the oldest son, even if only eight years old, had to work in the mines as a breaker boy or the family would be homeless.

This is the backdrop of the Morgan family story. Mr. Morgan is a coal miner with ambitions of moving up to supervisory position at the mines, studying mining correspondence courses. Then an accident left nine year old Daisy Morgan severely burned, the novel tells the story of how her family copes with grief after her death.

An unforgettable story of loss unfolds as the inconsolable mother is seduced by grief into a crippling depression…almost to the point of no return. The father’s descent into alcoholism was portrayed with compassion. Eight year old Violet’s grief and guilt thread through the novel: it was she who threw the celebratory sparkler in the air that landed on her sister’s dress and caught fire. Neighbors and school mates whisper, “Murderer, killer.”

Violet’s grief, guilt, feelings of abandonment, and despair are buoyed by the anticipation of Billy Sunday’s revival meetings. Sunday, a famous pro baseball player and evangelist, began his talks by running onto the stage, swinging a ball bat and declaring, “I’m here to make a home run for God.” His lively tent revivals of yore offer fascinating glimpses of the culture. Underscoring the prevalence of faith and religion; the familiar lines form old church hymns are woven through the story. I often found myself singing along.

I highly recommend this book. Though these descriptions sound bleak, it was a story of hope and the joy of survival. When Violet’s best friend, Stanley, age nine, was drafted into the mines. He was promoted from lowly breaker to mule boy within a week due to his innate skills with animals. Sophie was a skittish mule who was on death row because she refused to do anything useful. Stanley saved Sophie. He was thrilled, “Mule nipper was a hell of a lot better than bendin’ over pickin’ through slate ten hours a day.” Later Sophie saved Violet and Stanley.

A community of well-developed characters, subtle wit, and plot twists create a haunting story that will stay with the reader long after reading this novel.

Ann McCauley is
the author of Runaway Grandma and Mother Love. She’s a freelance writer who writes reviews for Story Circle Network as well as Writer Advice. She is also a speaker.
Surviving a Husband's Mental Illness
Worthy Brown's Daughter
Written by Phillip Margolin and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin

History Meets Mystery
Phillip Margolin knows courtrooms and criminal defense. He brings his legal expertise and his skill with unexpected twists and turns to his new historical novel Worthy Brown’s Daughter. The story is set in Oregon in the 1800s when the state constitution was hostile to Blacks. It said “No free negro or mulatto, not residing in the State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein.”

Ex-slave Worthy Brown and his daughter move from Louisiana to Oregon with their owner. He is freed but she is not. This is the story of his trying to get her free and instead winding up in jail for a murder he did not commit. An ambitious young lawyer, Matthew Penny, tries to free the young girl, whose former owner holds her in servitude and mistreats her. But on the night that the owner turns up dead on his front porch, the townspeople go after Worthy Brown, who threatened him in court, and lock Brown up, leaving Matthew Penny with more than one moral dilemma.

This absorbing read moves at the pace of a horse galloping through the Old West. Part human drama, part heartbreak, part drama, part loss, and part romance, this story will appeal to all readers who like adventure, romance, and justice. Margolin spent considerable time studying historical documents to get a feel for Oregon’s legal and social system in the 1860s and spent many years with this historical novel tucked away while he worked on contemporary thrillers. Ultimately he got it right and brought important issues to light. If you have an interest in the triumph of those with the odds against them, if you wonder what it’s like to take a second chance on love, or if you just like a good, tight courtroom drama, be sure to get a copy of Worthy Brown’s Daughter. If you aren’t a Philip Margolin fan, you just might become one.

Daughters, Agendas, and a Brand New Marriage
A Wedding in Provence
Written by Ellen Sussman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Written by Ellen Sussman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-0345548955
Ballantine Books (July 15, 2014)

Good Luck, Mrs. Brown
Written by Rita Keeley Brown and Reviewed by Carol Smallwood
Paperback 250 pages
Outskirts Press,  2011
ISBN-10: 143276859X

Written by Barbara J. Taylor and Reviewed by Ann McCauley
ISBN #: 978-1617752278
Kaylie Jones Books c/o Akashic Books, July 2014

Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Written by Phil Cousineau and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-1936740734
Viva Editions

Written by Phillip Margolin and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0-06-219535-7
The jacket cover of Ellen Sussman’s A Wedding in Provence tells us the book is
about “love, forgiveness, and trust.” While all of that is true, it’s also about
family and neediness, and poor choices. It just depends on what scene you’re
in and whether your glass is half empty or half full.

Olivia and Brody choose their friend’s comfortable, country inn in the
Mediterranean town of Cassis as the ideal spot for their late-in-life wedding.
The ceremony will be held in the lush garden, and the reception will be a small
party of only their closest family and friends. At least that’s the plan until their
family checks in.

Nell, Olivia’s oldest daughter from her first marriage arrives with a complete
stranger-an enigmatic man who is both alluring and a bit dangerous. Her
youngest daughter, Carly, is the responsible one. She arrives without her
workaholic husband and on this trips she feels an urgent need to cut loose and
do something bold and unpredictable. Jake, Brody’s playboy best man and
Fanny, Brody’s mother complete the guest list. And in the middle of it all is
Olivia, navigating the dramas, joys, and pitfalls of planning her wedding and
starting a new life.

The characters are naughty, and occasionally selfish as each one competes to
be exceptional. It’s easy to care about them and feel a bit superior at times.
The plot rolls forward with unpredictable adventures. And the redeeming
themes make the individual quirks charming instead of irritating.
Author Ellen Sussman is a skilled author with a keen understanding of families and how they relate. Her story is a sensual, enchanting novel.
A Wedding in Provence captures the complex and enduring bonds of family, and our boundless faith in love.
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Writer Advice welcomes reviews of recently published books. Be balanced, be fair, and pick a book you want to honor. Let your voice come through. Submit your reviews of approximately 250 words to Lgood67334@comcast.net. Unless there is a byline, the reviews in this issue are written by B. Lynn Goodwin.

“Literature is the last banquet between minds.”  -- Edna O'Brien
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