“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” ~~ Harper Lee
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- BEGINNING WITH CANNONBALLS: A Novel
- Written by Jill McCroskey Coupe and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1631528484
- She Writes Press
Expectations and Realities
What is the value of friendship? It means everything to Gail and Hanna until life separates them once they are grown. And what do their racial differences mean? Nothing, until Southern expectations in the fifties tell them to stay separate because they are not equal. With skill and precision author Jill McCroskey Coupe explores the way their friendship blossoms until they go their separate ways. A phenomena that make them reunite stirs the story and the relationship in Coupe’s debut novel Beginning with Cannonballs.
Even before they did cannonballs in Gail’s parents’ pool when they were four, Gail and Hanna became best friends. When Bessie, an attorney’s wife and Gail’s mother, needs help, she hires Sophie. She never questions Sophie bringing her daughter, Hanna, to live in the maid’s room with her. Sophie needs to flee from her home to protect Hanna. Gail is Bessie’s only child, but Hanna has an older brother who has never met his father.
The two girls had each other’s backs from the time they attached as babies, sharing the same crib, while Hanna’s mother, Sophie, slept downstairs in the maid’s room. As children in the fifties they knew nothing about society’s expectations, though Gail went to a white school and Hanna attended a black one. They didn’t care what it meant. They cared about being together and sharing the adventures of cannonballs, Billie Holiday’s lyrics, and other young girl adventures.
They soon experienced different perceptions of people, places, and things. And why wouldn’t they? Despite their devotion to one another, the world taught them who they were.
In their late teens, the young women go to separate colleges and live in separate towns. When Gail reaches out to organize a reunion, Hanna becomes defensive. If not for their tight friendship and Gail’s determination to keep Hanna in her life as the sister she never had, they might have forgotten each other. Needs can be stronger than defenses, though, and the support of both their husbands helped.
Told in episodic chapters that span 50 years and several eastern seaboard states, we watch Hanna and Gail work through tragedy, defiance, and grow into the aging that mellows many people. Coupe’s direct, accessible sentences combine with complex relationships and the inevitable tragedies of life to make this a highly readable story. I recommend this book for all women—especially those of a certain age—and the men who love them.
Story Circle Network, storycircle.org, published an earlier version of this review.
- YOU EXIST TOO MUCH
- Written by Zaina Arafat and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1948226509
- Catapult (June 2020)
Fiction that Reads like Memoir
What happens when a multi-cultural woman struggles to figure out who she is and her mother tells her “You exist too much?” Conflict? Crisis? Self-discovery? You could experiment. You could fold in on yourself. You might even discover that you are a sex addict at a treatment center.
Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much begins with her discovering that girls are not allowed to show their legs in the Biblical city of Bethlehem. She finds comfort and safety inside her uncle’s pants. As she travels through Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and the United States, she sees the flaws in man-made rules and customs. She seeks love and acceptance and finds it with women rather than men. She’s an eager adventurer with a destructive streak, a complex woman with a huge desire to figure out where home really is and what makes her feel comfortable there
For a while the narrator is in a recovery program for love addicts. Is she truly a love addict or is she merely seeking a relationship that will unravel some of the issues that plague her. The narrator explores her life to find her voice, and when she does, she finds truths that many readers will identify with. The scenes of the narrator getting into Palestine for her grandmother’s funeral capture the kind of pressure she has lived with all her life.
Author Zaina Arafat has written numerous articles for major publications and is a writing teacher with a growing resume. An LGBTQ Arab/Muslim-American fiction and nonfiction writer, she holds an M.A. in international affairs from Columbia University and an M.F.A. from Iowa. Currently she lives in Brooklyn where she is working on a collection of essays.
Though You Exist Too Much is fiction, it reads like a memoir. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in exploring who she is and where she fits most comfortably in the world.
- WHAT WE FORGOT TO BURY
- Written by Marin Montgomery and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- Thomas & Mercer (May 1, 2020)
- ISBN-13 : 978-1542017640
Secrets and How They Cripple Lives
Will the real villain please stand up? How will you even know? Who can you identify the real villain without all the facts? Truth, lies, and self-protection blur in Marin Montgomery’s What We Forgot to Bury, giving readers an engaging story told in alternating points of view. The truth becomes clear when we most need to know it. Meanwhile, this book is a marvelous look at two very different people dealing with critical issues.
In the first chapter we meet Elle, whose father is in prison. He begs her to find the woman who had him put away for killing her child. He insists he didn’t do it, and she is the only one who can set the record straight so he can be free. Elle, who lives with an impoverished foster family, agrees. In the next chapter we meet Charlotte Coburn, the woman who testified against Elle’s father and now lives in a gated community. When Elle shows up at her door one night during a fierce rainstorm, the blend of lies and neediness begins. What is Charlotte hiding and who else is keeping life-altering secrets?
Though there’s no repetition in the plot, Montgomery shifts the point of view from Elle to Charlotte and back to Elle. Most readers will care about both women and the men they love. The pace builds with each event and so does the tension. This is a tightly plotted mystery that accelerates until the whole truth comes out. My only question is what did someone forget to bury other than the truths they kept hidden? If you predict the outcome of mysteries as you read, be prepared to be baffled.
- STEPPING STONES: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation
- Written by Marilea Rabasa and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1631528989
- She Writes Press
No Hedging or Wavering
Addictions are a two-headed beast. Unchecked, they become unscrupulous monsters, often feeding on one another. Unchecked, they are insatiable. On the other hand, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Never is this more true than in Marilea C. Rabasa’s memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation.
As a child Marilea Rabasa was intimidated by family secrets that no one ever discussed. The truth, shown in behaviors, was never verbalized. Alcoholismcan be inherited. In her family, it reached back through several generations. So did the denial. Facing the truth would have brought shame on the family. Sometimes speaking is so much less costly than living with secrets, but since Rabasa was a sensitive woman with no choice, she fell victim to addictions and the behavior that accompanies them.Despite a life overseas in the diplomatic service and a constant quest for satisfaction and happiness, it wasn’t until she began writing about her life that Rabasa started becoming the strong, independent woman she was meant to be. Stepping Stones records her experiences as a wife, mother, traveler, and a woman with secrets to hide. This is a tale of overcoming obstacles and reveling in hard-won daily courage.Memoirs can be tough to write, but Rasaba does not hedge or waiver. She reveals her truths and what her secrets cost her whether she was serving her country as a diplomat’s wife or serving her students as an ESL instructor. Like many women she’s found strength by battling her addiction, invigorating her resolve, and finding strength in her truths. This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to improve her strength and confidence.
- LAUREL EVERYWHERE
- Written by Erin Moynihan and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #978-1-947845-19-0
- Ooligan Press
After the Accident
When you’re fifteen anything and everything can rock your world. But what if you want pizza and your brother, sister, and mom want to skip dinner and go out for ice cream? And your dad offers to take you for pizza? And nobody gets where they want to go because a truck driver misses a stop sign?
Grief takes all kinds of forms, as you know if you’ve ever been through it. Fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers can tell you all about it and she does so with bits of grace, anger, and wisdom in Erin Moynihan’s immediate and honest YA, Laurel Everywhere. After the accident, Laurel’s father leaves here alone both physically and emotionally. Although her grandparents step in to help it’s her two best friends Lyssa and Hanna who step up to help her cope with the day to day struggles of grief, loss, fear, anger, and anguish. Such a tough lot for a fifteen-year-old!
Can Laurel be simultaneously happy and sad? Can she see ghosts of her mother, brother, and sister or is she losing her mind?
In Moynihan’s capable hands this first person narrative explores the many phases of grief. Though it’s written for a teen audience many adults and teachers of adolescents will also find it engaging, entertaining, funny, tragic, and honest. It’s a quick read as well as an engaging one. Highly recommended.
- TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH
- Written by Mary Trump and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN 13: 978-1982141462
- Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (July 14, 2020)
Bizarre Behaviors and the Father that Fostered Them
What makes a woman write a tell-all memoir about her family? In Mary Trump’s case it was to inform the public about Donald Trump’s history and upbringing, which explains his self-before-service attitude towards his country, the government, and the people who need his leadership. She summarized her uncle’s actions succinctly when she said, “Donald, following the lead of my grandfather and with the complicity, silence and inaction of his siblings, destroyed my father. I can’t let him destroy my country.”
With a PhD in psychology, Mary Trump explains her uncle’s bizarre behaviors in ways others might not. After all, she had a first-hand look at the family for many years. She tells us that lying is expected, that one can never be soft, and that honest emotion is a weakness among the Trumps. These were her grandfather’s rules. When he tried to impose them on his older son, Freddie, who was also Mary’s father, they didn’t work. Freddie felt things. He had passions of his own. When he became an airline pilot her Uncle Donald was waiting in the wings, eager to earn the approval that Fred, Sr. could never give. Donald Trump learned cruelty from his father, and now, with no father figure and no moral grounding, he flounders.
Still, we Americans chose him, perhaps with some outside help. Ms. Trump wrote the book out of fear of what might happen if we chose him again. She’s telling us about a background beyond Donald Trump’s control combined with the belief that lying and cheating are the way to win. If you don’t want the leader of the free world to have this kind of philosophy Ms. Trump gives an abundance of reasons to vote for someone else. She fills in a lot of missing or suspected information and tells a story that no one else can. At 225 pages this is a quick, fascinating, and well-researched account of the past and what it is costing this country.
- THE COSMIC TURKEY
- Written by Laura Ruth Loomis and Reviewed by Aline Soules.
- Thinklings Books, 2020
- ISBN: 9781951471057
- $12.99 (print), $3.99 (e-book)
Cosmic Turkey—A Fun Read
“Thanks to recent advances in technology, my floatcar can self-navigate, adjust for traffic, and insult my outfit—but it still can’t find me a decent parking space. If it could, I might have avoided the arrest that started the whole mess.” How can we stop reading after an opening like that?
Hauled into court for “wanton and mildly atrocious destruction of government property,” our heroine, Janet, finds herself spending a year in the Galactic Universal Peacemongering Paradigm Emergent Action Spacefleet, GUPPEAS for short. She is assigned to be captain of a spaceship, “a battered husk of metal shaped like an ugly long-necked bird—a turkey, maybe—with the tail about to fall off,” which it does. Their mission? To rescue Dr. Pilar Villarreal, imprisoned on Pluto.
Cosmic Turkey is as delightful a romp as we’re likely to encounter. The heroine, Janet, begins life in Connecticut, but soon she is off to Pluto and galaxies galore. As she stumbles and bumbles her way through one planet after another and one adventure after another, we fall in love with her technological ineptitude, her sense of inadequacy as she assumes the helm of her spaceship, her struggles to lead her crazy crew, and her feelings for Beau Dangere and his sometime girlfriend, Richena.
If that wasn’t enough, we have the pleasure of watching the characters cope with the banning of caffeine—the sad absence of chocolate and coffee—and the efforts the characters make to cope with their withdrawal and reverse this arbitrary authoritarian decree.
Will Janet and her crew succeed in their mission? Will Janet and Beau get together? Will all come right in the end?
The author, Laura Ruth Loomis, offers us her wild imagination, her humor, and an enchanting dose of charm. From floatcars to spaceships to a game of curling on Pluto’s ice, Loomis lets her mind take her from one outrageous idea to the next. Yet, through it all, the novel is beautifully structured and we are confident that this author knows her craft. No matter how mad the idea, she shapes it into a puzzle piece that fits into the novel in exactly the right place.
Her book is a fun read. Cosmic Turkey lets us escape the world for a few hours and revel in the pleasure of a tale well told. And a little birdie told me there might be a sequel. I can’t wait.
Review by Aline Soules, Author, Evening Sun; Emerita Librarian and former selector, Juvenile/Young Adult Collections, Cal State East Bay. http://alinesoules.com, @aline_elisabeth, https://www.linkedin.com/in/alinesoules/, https://www.facebook.com/alinesoulesauthor.