Volume 22 Number 1

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

Epictetus, Stoic philosopher
Oct - December 2018

Archives

 

  

SIRACUSA
Written by Delia Ephron and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0399165214
Blue Rider Press

Psychological Thriller Meets Travelogue

My husband says, “The secret to a good marriage is no secrets.” Too bad the two couples in Delia Ephron’s Siracusa don’t know that. Couples keeping secrets are primed for drama. 

Here are the basics: Michael, a writer for whom fame came early and easily, is married to Lizzie, a journalist. Lizzie is in love with Finn. Finn is married to Taylor, who gives all her attention to her shy and precocious ten-year-old daughter, Snow. Snow is an enigma. And to bring us full circle, Michael is having an affair with a younger woman, Kathy, who shows up on the island of Siracusa because she knows Michael is vacationing there. Sound like a soap opera? Beware. It goes much deeper. 

The author takes complicated characters to a new height in this sometimes sophisticated and sometimes shocking novel. Told in four points of view Siracusa is an intricately plotted, well-conceived, and psychologically astute novel. Ironically these characters know that travel broadens your insights and changes your point of view. Ephron takes that awareness to new heights as the narrative twists and turns. 

The jagged slices of a photograph on the cover illustrate this story beautifully. Six characters. Six segments in the photo. Six versions of the truth. No two interpretations of a relationship are ever identical. In fact relationships are a bit like the sea off the coast of Siracusa, shifting and changing as new people, place, and events enter, color the water, and alter nearly everything. Just when you think you know what’s happening, these characters will surprise, horrify, and possibly amaze you. Don’t miss Delia Ephron’s dynamic and engaging Siracusa. She is a skilled and prolific author and playwright. 



WACO: A SURVIVOR’S STORY
Written by David Thibodeau with Leon Whiteson and Aviva Layton
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 9781602865730
Weinstein Books

He Only Wanted to Drum

There are two sides to every story—private and public. The news media reports, but reporters are human and are limited by the data they receive. Once in a while, a book allows us to go inside a story that has not been fully and properly reported. Such is the case with David Thibodeau’s WACO: A Survivor’s Story, being re-released in an updated and revised edition and coming out in conjunction with an upcoming TV mini-series that will begin airing on Spike TV in early 2018.

Waco is a tale about the small decisions that can alter the rest of our lives. Author David Thibodeau was a drummer for a rock band going nowhere when he met David Koresh. They had music in common, and Koresh was looking for a drummer to accompany his group. He later explains that the music supports his message: he believes he is the messiah who will lead a community in Texas through the seven seals of the apocalypse.

Thibodeau analyzes his choice to join Koresh, his growing belief in Koresh and his religious sect, and the flagrant flaws of the FBI who forced the group members to surrender or die. Without fanaticism he tries to figure out who is to blame. He is one of only four who survived the Waco massacre and was not sentenced to prison. He testified in Washington, was consulted on the mini-series, and continues to play the drums in his home state of Maine.

Since readers already know the outcome, we read to find out the inside story from David Thibodeau’s point of view. We watch his analysis of the changes in his belief systems. We observe how he processes warnings from the outside and how he processes the FBI’s actions. Although it’s a fascinating story, he spends a great deal of time reviewing what we either know or can assume. While that might frustrate some readers, others will be drawn to the ways he was drawn in and treated as an individual. Some will identify with his struggles. Others will watch with distant fascination, believing his brain does not work like theirs. All will see discrepancies between his eye witness account and what the media reported in 1993 when the story broke. In this era of “fake news” the story is a reminder that personal conviction matters and we make decisions based on the information we can find through all kinds of research. Objectivity matters, and Thibodeau’s WACO gives us some new perceptions to factor into the story. It’s told in the hopes that the WACO massacre will never be repeated. This is a must-read for sociologists, historians, and those curious about mind control and gentle persuasion.


Sarah Burningham
Little Bird Publicity
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HER AGAIN: Becoming Meryl Streep
Written by Michael Schulman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-0062342843
Harper

Seasons

Meryl Streep and I were two of the five people in Vassar College’s class of ’71, so I came to this book with huge curiosity and my own set of memories. I knew she went to Dartmouth in the fall of senior year while I finished my last units, but I had to read Michael Schulman’s HER AGAIN to find out what happened next. 

Shulman recounts the time she spent pursuing her craft. Her director at Vassar introduced her to directors in NYC. She pursued an MFA at Yale, joined a touring company and soon landed back in New York. Almost everywhere people fell in love with her ability to become the character, just as they had when she played Miss Julie at Vassar College. Offers of roles poured in during her first years on Broadway, where she was known for her ability to play an amazing range of characters. Even then she had a unique ability to fall into a role, an ability she enjoys without fully understanding it. That’s okay. Talented people often don’t understand their God-given gifts.

Shulman titled each chapter with the name of a character who came to represent a season in her life. He chronicles her relationships onstage and off, giving us a clear, unique portrait of a professional who’s widely respected from Broadway to Hollywood. Meryl, I’m proud to say that I knew you when you were in Drama 101 at Vassar. If only we’d worked on a scene together, I might have shared your inspiration and technique with the many students I taught. 

 

BONE BOX: A Decker-Lazarus Novel
Written by Faye Kellerman and reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-0062424969
William Morrow

A Few New Issues

There are too many murders in this country. What would you do to stop them? If your name is Peter Decker, you investigate, interview, locate convicting evidence, arrest the perpetrators, and bring them to justice. You make the world safe, and that’s exactly what he tired to do in Faye Kellerman’s Bone Box.

Decker can’t do it alone of course. He relies on help from current and former partners as well as his wife, Rina. In fact it’s Rina’s discovery of human remains on a forest floor that lead him into a case which could implicate a number of students and teachers at McKinley-Morse and associated colleges. The bones Rina finds have been interred for years. Why? And why are they so close to the Five Colleges of Upstate, a well-respected consortium of higher learning.

Having read many of Kellerman’s earlier books I’m delighted to find that her characters in this series are not stagnant. They’ve moved physically and psychologically since I last read one of her books. While she’s true to the investigative procedures, she usually keeps readers interested with fresh plots, new characters, and even a few new issues. She also stays within enough familiar boundaries that fans will find exactly what they are looking for.

Like her husband, Jonathan Kellerman, she specializes in vivid physical details. Her well-paced mysteries are filled with a wide array of suspects. This one had so many that I kept checking back to make sure I knew who was who. Though it may not have been her best book ever, it was a good read that held my interest. I’m grateful that the dead characters as well as the possible perps were fictitious, and I will be interested to see what she does next.

 

THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS
Written by Joan Dempsey and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN # 978-1631523083
She Writes Press

Labels

As a Californian, it is hard for me to imagine twelve teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area getting fired because of their sexual preference. It doesn’t make sense, yet the part of my brain lurking beneath my beliefs knows it could happen. Especially now.

After all, the Holocaust started because some people weren’t watching when Hitler rose to power and the Nazis took away the rights of gays as well as Jews. The more I read, the more I appreciated that Joan Dempsey’s This Is How It Begins is unnerving because the potential for such discrimination could be real right now—especially if we aren’t watching, commenting, and guarding against it.

In the story the charges against Tommy, who allegedly silenced Christian students in his high school English classroom, are a fabrication. But when I was a high school teacher, I saw a couple of devoutly Christian students turn every essay, every story, and every comment they made into Christian testimony, often avoiding the question I asked whether they meant to or not. Where does belief end and brainwashing begin? Dempsey’s book explores these questions on more than one level.

Tommy’s grandmother, eighty-five-year-old art professor, Ludka Zeilonka, still remembers the Nazis persecuting the Jews and her Catholic family protecting them. All these years later she’s still protecting a secret of her own: she’s hiding valuable art, stolen from the Nazis who stole from Jews.

Of course she’s appalled by Tommy’s dismissal, but she has her own problems to contend with. A stranger, who knows what she’s hiding, threatens to expose her, and that raises her anxiety level further. That, and the probability that he’s related to a very old friend, are nearly too much for her to contend with.

This is a book about recognizing and confronting labels and the discrimination they cause. It’s about seeing shifts in our beliefs that can change the course of history by doing whatever it takes, legal and fair or not, to get what you want. Sound familiar? It is an eerie mirror of more than one country operating in the world today. And it’s a warning. People who let go of either free speech or empathy for opposing viewpoints will pay the price.

Dempsey weaves the two stories together with skill and insight. Her writing stimulates the imagination as well as one’s social conscience. She is the 2017 fiction winner of the Maureen Egan Writer’s Exchange Award, which is administered through Poets and Writers. Her ideas and point of view, as well as her award, make her a writer worth watching, and This Is How It Begins is a novel worth reading.

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This review was originally published by Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org

 
 
For the young and the young at heart

 

SOLDIER SISTER, FLY HOME
Written by Nancy Bo Flood and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
ISBN #: 978-1580897020
Charlesbridge

Authentic

When you are fourteen-years-old, how do you deal with an identity that is confusing and loss that is nearly inconceivable? If you are Tess in Nancy Bo Flood’s middle grade novel, Soldier Sister, Fly Home, you talk to your Navajo grandparents, because your mom works at the hospital; and your dad is in Phoenix because he got a promotion at his computer company; and the white kids at the school in Flagstaff bully you because they see you as Indian, not Navajo or white; and your big sister, Gaby, is serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

The day before Gaby deploys, she asks her little sister, Tess, to take care of her stallion, Blue. Frankly, Tess is scared. “Show him who’s boss,” Gaby advises, and her grandmother agrees. Tess practices being in charge until it comes naturally. She and Blue become bonded.

The Navajo world, specifically sheep camp, teaches her to embrace the earth and to appreciate the give and take of nature. Her grandmother encourages her to take the best of both cultures and make them her own.

Author Nancy Bo Flood tells this story in vivid, expressive language. The story, which is accessible to middle-grade students of both cultures, grabbed and held me, and I am old enough to collect social security. Tess’s voice and earnestness are authentic and readers will empathize with her fears and support her growing confidence. I loved the grandparents, who guided Tess and shared their culture so lovingly, and the way Tess bonded with Blue.

Her story took me back to when I was in middle school AKA junior high, even though I am not Navajo, never owned a horse, never had a sister in the army, and didn’t know my grandparents. It isn’t always easy to show deep feelings in simple sentences. Nancy Bo Flood has done a marvelous job. Girls and their grandparents will love this book.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is dedicated to the memory of Lori Piestewa, who was a member of the Hopi tribe and also Mexican American. Lori was the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil. She died on March 23, 2003 and was awarded the Prisoner or War Medal and the Purple Heart.

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This review originally appeared on Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org