Monday, April 30, 2018

LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval by Kyle Longley

LBJ's 1968 by Kyle Longley caught my interest right away. I have been reading about President Johnson ever since Doris Kearns Goodwin's book LBJ and the American Dream came out.

LBJ has fascinated me for the complexity of his character. He was a truly empathetic man who strove to better the lives of Americans. He understood power and how to use it. He could be cruel and undignified. And he was blind to his own flaws.

While contending with one crisis after another, Longley shows how President Johnson's strength under pressure and thoughtful consideration helped him deal successfully with the U.S.S. Pueblo while his fatal flaw, a prideful lack of self-examination and denial of error, led to his failure to end the war in Vietnam.

LBJ abused his power regarding Supreme Court nominations, which the Republicans would not approve, setting a dangerous precedent. Johnson was unwilling to give over party leadership, negatively impacting the Democratic platform and Vice President Humphrey's campaign.

But he also responded to the death of Rev. King and the resulting rioting across the nation with empathy and understanding, pushing the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

LBJ had supported gun control ever since the assassination of President Kennedy. In February 1968 he submitted the Safe Streets and Crime Control Bill. He wanted to ban mail order sales, interstate sales, sales to prison inmates, and sales to minors--but the NRA opposition squashed the bills. And a few weeks later, RFK was shot. The president proposed a commission on violence.

"My fellow citizens, we cannot, we just must not, tolerate the sway of violent men among us. We must not permit those who are filled with dominate our streets and fill our homes with fear...Let us put an end to violence and to the preaching of violence. Let the Congress pass laws to bring the insane traffic in guns to a halt, as I have appealed to them time and time again to do. That will not, in itself, end the violence, but reason and experience tell us that it will slow it down; that it will spare many innocent lives."

The Gun Control Act of 1968 did end mail order sales, sales to minors, and importation of guns but failed on licensing and registration.

When the Nixon camp secretly worked to stall Johnson's peace talks, Johnson elected to suppress the evidence rather than create a crisis if the president-elect was outed as treasonous. As Longly points out, that crisis was only delayed until the Watergate break-in was discovered.

As if the Vietnam war and problems of Communist China were not enough, LBJ had to respond to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Every issue we deal with today can find its twin in 1968. I enjoyed both the in-depth story of 1968 both as history and as a revelation of how we "got to here."

The Republican response to Civil Rights, Environmentalism, and the Great Society was immediate; the dismantling Johnson's legacy, even the publicly popular programs, continues to this day. We have a renewal of racial tension and hate groups. We still struggle with Southeast Asia, China, and the Soviets.

I found LBJ's 1968 to be an emotional as well as intellectual read, as both a snapshot in time and informing today's political scene. I would recommend it to those interested in American history, presidential history, and also to those of us who grew up during this time period.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval
by Kyle Longley
Cambridge University Press
Publication April 1, 2018
ISBN 9781107193031
PRICE $29.99 (USD)

Getting Personal

I voted for LBJ in a junior high mock election after a classmate told me about the Great Society. A few years later my peers were chanting LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.

1968 was such a tumultuous year that I spent years trying to encapsulate it in a short story, 16 in '68. I was still fifteen at the time of the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy. I returned from school to televised images of the war in Vietnam and body counts.

My husband vividly remembers watching President Johnson announcing his withdrawal from candidacy for reelection.

My mom and I watched the 1968 Democratic Convention together on our black and white television.

In the meantime, my family was dealing with a health crisis, mom hospitalized for weeks while I 'held down' the fort at home for my little brother. And between the assassinations of public leaders, a boy at school sat in a car in his family garage, door closed, with the engine running.

Both my personal world and the public world were overwhelming.

On my first wedding anniversary, we learned that on the day we were being married in a quaint, New England style church surrounded by red rose bushes, President Nixon's 'plumbers' were planning a break in that night.


'Countless historians have picked apart 1968, but Kyle Longley is the first to go inside the head of the man who, more than anyone else, defined that year - and with a style and precision that somehow makes an account of a terrible time a joy to read.'
Clay Risen - The New York Times

'1968 was a turbulent year in our country and a year when President Lyndon Johnson encountered what seemed like an endless series of crises. Kyle Longley has depicted the tone of the times and captured the dilemmas and decisions of LBJ in this compelling book that should be read by any student of that eventful year.'
Larry Temple - Special Counsel to President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, Chairman of the LBJ Foundation

'Like King Lear, Lyndon Johnson gave away his power before the end of the play. Kyle Longley's Texas-size epic reveals the tragedy, comedy, pathos, and heroism in the extraordinary events that followed that fateful year, 1968, as seen through the eyes of an American giant.'
Elizabeth Cobbs - author of American Umpire

'From the Pueblo crisis to the Chennault affair, 1968 was a year like no other, and Kyle Longley's fast-paced, richly detailed narrative splendidly captures the ups - and mostly downs - from the vantage point of LBJ's White House.'
George C. Herring - author of The American Century and Beyond

'Kyle Longley has penned a vivid and insightful portrait of one of the most tumultuous and significant years in American history.'
Randall B. Woods - University of Arkansas

'Kyle Longley offers an insightful portrayal of arguably the most complex American president of the Cold War era. What emerges is a fresh appraisal of Lyndon Johnson, a tragic figure contesting the forces of history. In an innovative biographical approach, Longley takes us inside LBJ’s White House during the tumultuous year of 1968. An outstanding work by a master storyteller.'
Gregory A. Daddis - Chapman University, California

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Southern Quilt Traditions, History, and Designs

Southern Quilts by Mary W. Kerr includes articles by thirteen quilt historians, profusely illustrated with 270 color photographs, demonstrating the rich heritage of quilting across the South.

The heritage of quilts was influenced by Scots-Irish and German settlers as well as by African American traditions, and demonstrate regionally popular quilt patterns, a preference for complicated quilt block incorporating tiny pieces, and specific color palettes.

The Forward by Laurel Horton discusses Southern Roots, Southern Patterns, and the roots of Southern quilting from the British Isles, later impacted by waves of immigrants who migrated south from Pennsylvania.

Southern cotton was milled in New England, the plentiful American-made fabrics leading to the Golden Age of American quilt making during the mid-1800sand into the twentieth century. The development of new dyes and colors and quit block patterns, and inexpensive fabrics, led to the creation of suburb examples, while utility quilts included scrap sewing, the use of feed sacks, large quilt stitching, and heavy cotton batting.

Chapters include:
  • Making Do- a Southern Tradition by Mary W. Kerr
  • Alabama Pine Burr by Mary Elizabeth Johnson
  • Alamance Applique by Kathlyn Sullivan
  • Circles and Spikes by Teddy Pruett
  • Cotton Boll by Kathlyn Sullivan
  • Crown of Thorns by Merikay Waldvogel
  • Double Wedding Ring by Sherry Burkhalter
  • Farmer's Fancy by Bunnie Jordan
  • The Impact of the Feedsack on Southern Quilts by Sarah Bliss Wright
  • Pieced Pine But by Mary W. Kerr
  • Rattlesnake Quilts by Marcia Kaylakie
  • Seven Sisters by Sandra Starley
  • Southern Florals by Lisa Erlandson
  • Tricolor Quilts: How the Germans of Pennsylvania Influenced a Color Palette and Style in the South by Lynn Lancaster Gorges
  • Whig's Defeat by Gaye Rick Ingram
I was particularly interested learning about Shenandoah Valley quilts since my paternal line includes the earliest settlers. The pattern known as Farmer's Fancy was particularly popular in that area.
Farmer's Fancy quilt circa 1880, from the collection of Taryn Faulkner, Pinterest image
Farmer's Fancy is a circular pattern, with an inner design similar to a sunburst or compass block, surrounded by several rings of triangles. Jordan notes the earliest documented Farmer's Fancy block dates to 1846. The pattern was later called Pyrotechnics in the 1930s.

This quilt is often found in red and cheddar yellow, and sometimes with a background of blue, cheddar, or green. In another chapter, Lynn Lancaster Georges discusses the Pennsylvania German impact on the Southern color palette. As seen in Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur art and earthenware pottery, they tended toward teal blue, orange, and oxblood. Zig-zag borders are often found on the Shenandoah Valley quilts.

The West Virginia State Documentation Project found this pattern throughout the Shenandoah Valley and neighboring areas first settled by German Mennonites and Scots-Irish. My Gochenour family were German-speaking Swiss Brethren, a branch of the Anabaptist faith which includes the Mennonites and Amish. (My ancestors became Baptist after a few generations.)

I may be daydreaming, but I would love to make my own version of Farmer's Fancy! I bought acrylic templates from John Flynn's company. His way of construction should make it easier for me.

Southern Quilts will appeal to those interested in quilt history and to quilters who enjoy making Reproduction quilts.

I received a free e-book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read my reviews of Mary Kerr's previous books Recycling Vintage Hexie Quilts and Twisted .

Southern Quilts: Celebrating Traditions, History, and Designs
by Mary W. Kerr
Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Pub Date 28 Apr 2018 
Hardcover $29.99
ISBN: 9780764355028

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The House of Broken Angels

Oh, my--this book! I was overwhelmed by this boisterous, complicated, colorful family gathered for the funeral of their matriarch and the last birthday of her son Big Angel, who is dying of cancer.

As I read, this family took residence in my heart. They were not so unlike my own family. I remembered the large family gatherings of my childhood; we have our 'colorful' characters, too. My cousins and I are are too quickly becoming the oldest generation--the next to die.

Through the story of one particular Mexican-American family, The House of Broken Angels recalls what it means to be family. Through the life and death of one man, we grapple with the purpose of our own life and death.

Big Angel's grandfather came to America after the Mexican Revolution, tried to enlist for service during WWI, then in 1932 the family was deported back to Mexico. He was First Angel.

Big Angel's deceased father, a cop, is still a powerful presence in the lives of Big Angel and his half-brother, Little Angel. He was feared, he was idolized, and he was hated. Big Angel's dad abandoned his family for an American woman,"all Indiana milk and honey" with "Cornflower-blue eyes." He had 'forgotten' he had a son named Angel in his first family. The half-brothers have had an uneasy relationship.

At his seventieth birthday party, Big Angel is surrounded by his beloved Perla and their children, Perla's sisters who he helped raise, his half-siblings, and grandkids. Those who have died, and a son who has been estranged, are present in aching hearts.

As Big Angel struggles with how to die, how to atone for his sins, and the legacy he wants to leave his family, we learn the family's stories, the things that have divided and alienated them, and the things that bind them together. They will break your heart and they will inspire you with the strength and love of their family bonds. The revelation of this purpose is the climax of the novel, a scene that you will never forget.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea was inspired by his own family in writing this book. His eldest brother was dying when a day before his birthday he had to bury his mother. The family put on a 'blowout party, the kind of ruckus he would have delighted in during better days."

Urrea also wanted to tell the story of Mexican-American families, about immigrants and the American dream, living on the border between two countries and cultures, the hopes and dreams and cruel realities.

Reviewers use the word exuberant in describing this book. It is!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The House of Broken Angels
by Luis Alberto Urrea
Little, Brown & Co.
Hardbound: Price: $25.98
ISBN-13: 9781478915812

Friday, April 27, 2018

Revisiting Flowers for Algernon--Fifty Years Later

Daniel Keye's novella Flowers for Algernon was published in 1959 and in 1966 was expanded into the novel because of its popularity. I read the novel as a teenager in high school, and enjoyed it enough to read it several times. I also saw the 1968 movie Charly, based on the book. I had not read the book since then.

A little sniffing around the 'Net brought the information that Keyes was inspired when teaching special needs students and that characters in the novel were based on people he knew.

The story is presented through a series of journal entries by Charlie, who is
mentally impaired and working in a menial job with friends whom he likes, although they take advantage of him and make him the brunt of jokes. 

Charlie takes classes and sincerely wants to improve himself, to be normal. He agrees to become a test subject in hopes of gaining normal intelligence. Algernon, a mouse, showed amazing intellectual powers after receiving an operation. 

As Charlie's capacity for understanding grows, he outpaces everyone around him, including the scientists.

Charlie's parents had abandoned him to a home when his mother became concerned that Charlie might harm or abuse his little sister. He struggles with the demons of his now understood past, particularly the mistreatment he suffered from his mother, which left him unable to have normal sexual relationships. The psychology is very Freudian.

Algernon the mouse shows the effects of the experiment is short-lived and Charlie grapples with this knowledge, becoming manic in his obsession to find a cure. He also tries to reconnect with his family.

It seemed to me that the novel was informed by the sci-fi trope of the highly intelligent scientist who loses his humanity. And yet in the real world, I can think of a multitude of brilliant people whose compassion and humanity was amplified by their intelligence.
...I was an arrogant, self-centered bastard...incapable of making friends or thinking about other people and their problems." Charlie

In the end, Charlies is as isolated as a super-genius as he was with an IQ of 68. He calls for the need to respect all humans, regardless of their intelligence.

"But I know now there's one thing you've all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn.(...)Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love.(...)Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis." Charlie

My local book club read the novel this month, to great acclaim by all. Everyone thought the epistolary format offered great insight into Charlie's developing and declining intelligence. 

One member noted that in a few months Charlie went from a childish innocence through all the stages of development before regressing again--a coming of age story. Another mentioned he connected to the book because of a family member. And one woman's health crisis involved a loss and regaining of mental acuity. They all related to the story.

Several aspects of the book felt very dated to me: the Freudian psychology and the characterization and function of women. 

Charlie adores his teacher Alice, and when he reaches normal intelligence, he finds he is in love with her. She is responsive, but Charlie can't deal with sex with her. 

Charlie finds his 'need for human contact' filled by his free-spirited neighbor Faye, whom he does not love. She is fun and exciting and an extrovert who loves to dance and has little modesty. 

One line that will pull a few strings in today's female readers is when Charlie says, "you can't have everything you want in one woman. One more argument for polygamy."

I was surprised by the 'sex talk' in the book, perhaps one reason why it has been banned in schools over the years.

The club members gave the novel five stars, a few four, and considered it to be required reading along with 1984.

I was cajoled for rating it 3.75. I appreciate what Keyes was saying, but am not sure the novel has stayed fresh or that the messages are profound enough to be considered 'great' literature. I do think it is a good book for a young adult reader. And I expect younger readers will still find it a tear-jerker as I did fifty years ago.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Mini Reviews: Starlings & Lear

Starlings is a collection of short stories, some hardly more than extended jokes, all with a sci-fi/fantasy bent. Some were entertaining, others confused me. I enjoyed the longer sci-fi story best.

Most of the shorter works had an ironic twist a la' Twilight Zone, including a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, waylaid and delivered to the Greek myth Cassandra, who writes back to Jane.

I did not feel propelled to read these selections and I lost access to the ebook before finishing it.

I don't think they are 'my thing.'

But what a great cover!!!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

I read Shakespeare's King Lear in high school, and in two college courses, and I taught it to my son while homeschooling. It is my favorite tragedy. So when I saw NetGalley had Harold Bloom's Lear: The Great Image of Authority I thought, cool! A chance to revisit my favorite tragedy!

And it was wonderful to read those familiar lines again. But I am sad to say...I did not enjoy Bloom's interjected comments about the play. I was lifted by Shakespeare's words then dunked in cold water, trudging through commentary until I got back to the Bard.

Not to say that Bloom did not offer ideas or insights or connections new to me. And he communicates his personal responses and joy. 

I am shocked that I did not enjoy this. What can I say?  But this presentation may work in a classroom lecture with students who had read the complete play and come ready to dissect it did not work for me. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lear: The Great Image of Authority
by Harold Bloom
Pub Date 24 Apr 2018
Hardcover $24.00
ISBN: 9781501164194

"King Lear is perhaps the most poignant character in literature. The aged, abused monarch—a man in his eighties, like Harold Bloom himself—is at once the consummate figure of authority and the classic example of the fall from majesty. He is widely agreed to be William Shakespeare’s most moving, tragic hero.
Award-winning writer and beloved professor Harold Bloom writes about Lear with wisdom, joy, exuberance, and compassion. He also explores his own personal relationship to the character."  from the publisher

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Curtis Sittenfeld: Eligible and You Think It, I'll Say It

I won You Say It, I'll Think it by Curtis Sittenfeld from LibraryThing and as I read the first stories I determined to also read her novel Eligible since it was a modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

"Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife." 

Said Chip had been on the television reality show Eligible, hoping to find love, and broke all the girls' hearts by marrying none of them. His Hollywood career over, he went back to practice medicine in a new town.

For Mrs. Bennet, Chip's arrival in Cincinnati was perfect timing. The two eldest Bennet daughters, Jane nearly forty and Liz not far behind, were returning home to help out after Mr. Bennet's coronary artery bypass surgery. After all, Mrs. Bennet couldn't handle an invalid AND chair the Women's League fundraising luncheon. As far as Mrs. Bennet was concerned, having a medical man in the family would be a perk.

Only Liz knows that Jane opted for artificial insemination after the break up of her last relationship. Liz writes for a magazine and has no plans for children. But she has been in love with her 'best friend' Jasper Wick for years, although they never became a 'couple' until after Jasper's married. Fourteen years Liz waited for him to realize they were meant for each other. Jasper had no intention of divorcing his wife, so Liz becomes his 'best friend' with benefits.

Liz soon discovers not only mom but dear old dad needs 'handling,' beginning with mom's shopping addiction and the huge medical bills piling up because dad was uninsured. Living at home still are Mary, in graduate school, and freeloaders Kitty and Lydia, in their early twenties.

The Bennet family are invited to the Lucas's house to meet Chip, where, of course, his friend Darcy snubs Liz. Meanwhile, 'cousin Willie' has made millions and shows up looking for a wife, and a snarky Caroline Bingley warns Liz off.

You know the story--just not this version of the story. Everything is updated: the daughter's ages, their sex lives, and the problems they face are very 21st c. Racism, sexual orientation, transgender issues, and the artificial reality of television make appearances.

It is a very funny novel, and overall a very clever updating of Austen. I especially loved Sittenfeld's version of Mr. Bennet. 

"I don't suppose that any of you can appreciate the terror a man might feel being so outnumbered," Mr. Bennet said. "I often weep, and there are only six of you."

I thought the updated scene of Liz trying to get to an ailing Jane was handled well; in the original, Liz walks through dirty lanes and fields, arriving in most unfashionable condition. Sittenfeld has Liz jog across town, arriving drenched in sweat. Each version of Liz shows how she places family bonds above social approbation, and in each she proves herself to be healthy, active, fit, and glowing.

Showing my age, and early monogamy, it was discomforting to read about all the premarital sex going on. All the sexual tension between Darcy and Elizabeth? I sure missed that. And where Austen's Liz has her own pride, Sittenfeld's Liz is a terrible drunk. Not my favorite handling of this character.

Eligible also misses the darker side of Austen: the soldier's camp gathered because of the looming war with France, Liz's challenge to the social hierarchy by not kowtowing to her social superiors, the church held in thrall by those who hold the living to the point of the Rev. Mr. Collins being instructed on what to preach. And Wick is an almost comic philanderer, Liz willing to settle for his terms, when Wickham was a seducer of a young heiress, a liar, a gambler, and an gold-digging opportunist--very evil qualities in Austen's day.

But I applaud Sittenfeld's novel for picking up on Austen's witty social jabs and the bright and sparkling aspect of the original.

I obtained a copy of the book through my local public library.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
on my quilt Prince's Feather
The publisher's letter included with my LibraryThing win copy of Curtis Sittenfeld's You Think It, I'll Say It notes that the ten stories included "pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life." 

If I could sum up the stories with one word it might be ironic, or perhaps in two words, unsettling insight.

Misunderstandings abound between the sexes, usually rooted in a woman's self-doubt about their lovability, or their passivity in relationships, or the projection of need onto another. A lack of openness, once discovered, closes doors. Women dwell on the past, holding grudges or romantic fantasies. Denial of one's neurosis causes conflict with coworkers. A man's game is misunderstood by a woman who sees it as intimacy.

I felt too old for these stories about young women and forty-year-olds who grew up in a different world than I did. There is a lot of sex going on, and language that was verboten to me.

And yet, some things don't change. Sittenfeld offers insights into the human experience we can all relate to.

"I had no idea, of course, that of all the feelings of youth that would pass, it was this one, of an abundance of time so great as to routinely be unfillable, that would vanish with the least ceremony."
"Presumably, the campus of Dartmouth in the early nineties--like college campuses in every decade, like owns and cities everywhere--was home to many other virgins, afraid that they were too ugly to be loved, convinced that this private shame was theirs alone."
(Vox Clamantis in Deserto)

"You think, Jesus, everyone in the world was once this young, floating on a tide of parental love and hope. That's before they turn into teenage assholes." (Plausible Deniability)

"I had a thing about touching certain people, about dirtiness...Strangely, being groped by the kids didn't bother me; there was a purity to their dirtiness because they were so young." (Volunteers Are Shining Stars)

"I can't help seeing the election as a metaphor. It turns out that democracies aren't that stable, and neither are marriages. And I'm so fucking confused! I didn't think I'd be this confused with I was forty-three (...)I thought I had my act together (...) But something came loose inside me, something got dislodged, and I am still that teenager." (Do-Over)

In the end, I enjoyed these stories and will return to them again. But I am glad to have survived those youthful years of self-doubt and troubled relationships, the nurtured grievances and desired do-overs.

A won a free book from the publisher through LibraryThing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

West by Carys Davies

John Cyrus Bellman left his Lewiston, PA farm and his only child to embark on a quest into the west. He knew he would be gone at least two years. Was he a fool, like his sister judged, or romantic and adventurous, as he appeared to his daughter Bess? 

Bellman's desire to see undiscovered country was rooted in a longing to find the living creatures whose huge bones had been discovered in Kentucky. He had already crossed an ocean, from England to America, built a farm, had a child, and lost a wife. But the West beckoned with its mysteries and he could no longer stay put.

Bellman studied the Lewis and Clark Expedition maps at the subscription library. His plan was to follow their trail...but to diverge into the vast spaces they had left unstudied. He was certain he would find the mammoth creatures alive. He packed up trading items and set off on his journey, leaving his daughter and farm to his sister's care.

Carys Davies novel West takes readers across hostile landscapes both wild and settled. As Bellman faces cruel winters and lean seasons, accompanied only by a Native American boy, back in Lewistown his daughter Bess survives in an isolated land without parental love or friends. Bess dreams of her father's travels, longing to see the library maps herself. And, unprotected in the world, as Bess nears puberty, men watch her and wait and scheme.

Bellman's decision to go on his journey seemed to me at once a quest and an escape, resulting in a "night sea journey" recognition of what he had given up in leaving his known world. He struggles with the choices he made, realizing that sometimes we set our mind on what seems important only to realize we have been mistaken in our values.

The novel is beautifully written. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

by Cays Davies
April 24, 2018
ISBN 9781501179341, 1501179349
Hardcover $22.00 USD 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

We all have one story...the only story

"Don't expect too much of me."from The Only Story
My mother warned me. She was thirty-eight and I was nineteen when she warned that it happens to all lovers. My aunt once pondered, "What happened to us?" while reflecting on her first love and failed marriage.

We see it all the time, famous couples in the news, the couple next door. We expect everything, throw ourselves into young love trusting that the connection shared is timeless and everlasting.

It is our 'only story' of love, that first love when we are young and hopeful. We think we are different from the others.
"Somehow eternity seems possible as you embrace." *
I was excited to finally read Julian Barnes after hearing so much about his books. I was not disappointed. I do love a quiet, introspective novel with beautiful writing and a deep understanding of the human condition. The main character, Paul, tells us his 'only story' from the vantage of fifty years, recalling his first love in all its happiness, and later pain.

Paul is nineteen when he meets Susan, almost thirty years his senior. They play tennis at the local club during his first summer home from university. In a fluid, organic way, without pathos or introspection, their relationship becomes intimate.
Paul becomes a fixture in Susan's life, even coming into the home she shares with her alienated husband. When Paul turned twenty-one he took her away.

After recalling his early innocent and idealized love, we learn that Susan was a victim of spousal abuse. Paul recalls Susan's slipping from him into alcoholism, and lastly considers all the implications of cause and effect, culpability, and his inability to move past Susan.

The novel left me heartsore. For days.

I have a cousin who in her fifties slipped into early dementia from alcohol abuse. Her husband, her first love when they were teenagers, installed her in her own home, unwilling to watch her destroy herself. Of course, I thought of her.

Our only story, the one great love of our life, may end when one beloved partner dies first, or it may end in disaster, heartbreak, a crippling of the emotions. We may be left to relive happy memories or to wonder how it all went wrong. Paul agonizes: did he let go of Susan, let her fall, or did she pull him down with him?

Regardless, Paul is left damaged by his only story. And as a reader, I mourned with him.

I received a free ebook from First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

*from Second Elegy, Duino Elegies by Ranier Maria Rilke, trans. David Young

The Only Story
by Julian Barnes
Publication: April 17, 2018
ISBN-10: 0525521216
ISBN-13: 978-0525521211

Saturday, April 21, 2018

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis by Eberhard Alsen

While researching for the 2013 film Salinger and the accompanying oral biography, Eberhard Alsen became interested in why, unlike other Jewish American writers of his generation, Salinger avoided Jewish themes and writing about the Holocaust, even though he had personally seen the horrors of a concentration camp shortly after the end of World War II. This aspect of Salinger was not addressed in the movie.

Eberhard Alsen's book J. D. Salinger and the Nazis is drawn from detailed and exhaustive research and challenges myths about Salinger's experience in the service and the German woman he married.

Through an analysis of sixteen of Salinger's short stories about soldiers, The Catcher in the Rye, and unpublished wartime letters and documents, Alsen offers a correct history of Salinger's wartime experience, showing how major catastrophic events and flawed leadership shaped Salinger's attitude toward the American army.

Interestingly, Salinger was part of the Counter Intelligence Corps who job was to track down and arrest Nazis and Alsen's own father was a Nazi arrested by Salinger's Twelfth Infantry Regiment at the end of the war.

Getting Personal

I first read Salinger at age fourteen in a Ninth Grade English class; we needed parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye which was banned until a classmate's librarian mother challenged it.

I had been reading the classics--Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Eyre, even Lord Jim. Holden's voice was something new for me and I was obsessed. That summer, I read all of Salinger in print and anything I could about the author. In 1967, there was no Internet or Wikipedia or Google so what I found was limited.

Years later I bought the bootlegged short stories when they came out. And although it has been some years since I read Salinger's stories, they were vivid enough in my mind to recall them as Alsen discussed them. What surprises me now is how little I thought about Salinger as being a war writer when I first read him! My favorite Salinger short story has always been To Esme, With Love and Squalor.

Because I was so familiar with Salinger's work, Alsen's book was 'easy' reading. Also, he has a good writing style that is not academic and dry.

Salinger's short stories were very autobiographical. Alsen believes Salinger's nervous breakdown, understood today as PTSD, fell somewhere between that of Sergeant X in "For Esme" and Seymour Glass in "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

One aspect of Alsen's understanding of Salinger could be the basis for another study all together: his relationship to women. Alsen suggests Salinger suffered from borderline personality disorder, "a pattern of unstable and intense personal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation." This, along with avoidant personality disorder, and PTSD, had to impact his personal relationships in a negative way.

I found this study to be fascinating.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis
by Eberhard Alsen
April 17, 2018
ISBN 9780299315702, 0299315703
Hardcover |  168 pages
$24.95 USD,

Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader's Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Young John Quincy Adams, Spy

John Quincy Adams [JQA] was a remarkable man who dedicated his life to public service. His training started early under his patriot parents John and Abigail Adams.

I have read multiple biographies of the family and somehow was not surprised to win The Adventures of Young John Quincy Adams: Sea Chase on Goodreads, even though it is written for young readers.

The author John Braddock was a case officer with the CIA and is a strategy consultant. His previous book is A Spy's Guide to Thinking.

The history behind the story in Sea Chase concerns the eventful journey across the Atlantic in 1778, when an eleven-year-old JQA accompanied his father to France to ask for French support of the American Revolution.

Reading Sea Chase, I had to keep in mind two things: my understanding of JQA and my memories of the historical fiction read in childhood that encouraged a lifelong interest in the American Revolution and history. When a teacher read Ben and Me by Robert Lawson to the class, I loved it and read it several times.  Of course, a mouse living in Benjamin Franklin's hat did not give him all his ideas. It was a device to catch a child's attention and interest. It worked.

In Sea Chase, the brilliant mind of JQA has yet to show itself. Instead, at least one person thinks he must have been adopted because he is so naive and clueless. The story is of the Education of John Quincy Adams (not to be confused with the autobiography of his grandson the Education of Henry Adams) in which JQA not only learns French from Dr. Noel, but the art of spycraft as well, involving critical thinking skills and discernment.

While his old man seems busy with papers and oblivious to what is going on around him, another unlikely characterization, JQA makes friends with other young travelers on the ship, including a cabin boy with a secret, suffers seasickness, and learns--literally--to climb the ropes. One night he overhears sailors talking, for there are British spies on board, and his inquisitive mind leads him into troubled waters. There is adventure ahead for the children.

As the good Doctor mentors JQA, he also is lectured about political philosophy and the superiority of Democratic and Christian values.

As a child, I loved adventure stories and stories on the high seas. I believe I would have liked this novel.

As an adult, I cringe at the characterization of JQA, for it is hard to believe he would have been such a dunce. And yet...what about that mouse who gave Ben Franklin his best ideas? I remind myself. It is fiction. For kids. And if that means that twenty years later they pick up a solid biography of the man who dedicated his life to his country, and who after a lackluster presidency returned to the House and argued for an end to slavery, I'm in.

Learn More About JQA:

Read about the quilt I made for John Quncy Adams at
President's Quilt for John Quincy Adams made by Nancy A. Bekofske
for traveling exhibition by Sue Reich and appears in her book
Quilts Political and Presidential
John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery

The Remarkable Life of Young John Quincy Adams

Mr Adam's Last Crusade

And a book I have been reading, John Quincy Adams Militant Spirit

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lisa See and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Troy Public Library in Troy, Michigan, hosted author Lisa See this week. I quickly bought her latest book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and read it in two days.

The author series has brought some great writers to the local public, including Elizabeth Berg, David Maraniss, and Emily St. John Mandel. 250 people signed up for See's presentation, the largest crowd yet!

A few years ago I read Lisa's earlier books Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. This latest book focuses on a minority ethnic group, the Akha, who live in a biodiverse area comprised of parts of China and Laos. The book opens in 1988 when the Akha were still cut off from the modern world.

The Tea Girl is about mothers and daughters, a culture in transition, the "grateful but sad" experience of Chinese children adopted in the United States, and the history of Pu'er tea. We meet Li-yan and follow her story of sorrow and loss, self-reliance and renewal. 

See believes fiction should address what it means to be human, allowing readers to occupy another world and experience other realities. Her writing has certainly provided that experience for thousands worldwide.
With Lisa See and her new book at the
Troy Community Center, Troy, Michigan
I found the novel to be very interesting and engaging. I particularly responded to the section where the adopted girls discuss their experiences. Our son was friends with a boy adopted from China and he often related to us his concern for this boy's sadness and his feeling of alienation as the only Chinese boy in school.

I am a tea drinker and enjoyed learning about tea production and how it has changed. I was fascinated by the Akha culture and how the commercialization of Pu'er tea offered the advantages of electricity and sanitation while impacting their traditions.

"No coincidence, no story," the novel begins, quoting the main character's mother. The novel is filled with coincidences but so was the birth and development of the novel, See told the audience.

See knew she had to write about Chinese girls adopted into foreign families; being of American-Chinese heritage, she understood their question of identity. See found her story through several serendipitous experiences, from the sight of a girl's swinging ponytail as she walked with her parents to a fortuitous connection with a purveyor of Pu-er tea offering a chance to see the Akha people and experience the harvesting and processing of the tea.

When asked if she enjoys research or writing best, See admitted she loves the research aspect and talked about how the research impels her writing.

A comment was made on the nonjudgemental quality of her books, and See talked about "living in their clothes for a while" (a favorite quote from Wallace Stenger in his novel Angle of Repose) as her motivation for writing.

Another in the audience asked why See did not use her writing to make social statements. For instance, one novel she wrote about foot binding and in The Tea Girl the Akha view of twins as "human rejects" involving infanticide. See stated that telling the story is all that is needed, for no one is going read her book and think killing twins is a good idea! I agree. Great writing engages the reader's mind and heart; the story should be all that is needed.

See avoids reading fiction while writing to protect her voice. While on tour these past months she has enjoyed reading many genres, including South American writers and currently is reading House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, which I have been reading.

See has written a book on her family, On Gold Mountain, and a mystery series. Her next book is set on a small island off Korea in a dying society where woman free divers are the 'breadwinners'.

Read about See's favorite novels at Off the Shelf here. She includes several of my favorites, including Howard's End by E. M. Forster and, of course, Wallace Stenger's Angle of Repose.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie has the description: One Sewing Machine. Two Families. Three secrets. Four generations.

The author was a career nurse turned fabric dyer and textile enthusiast. She was inspired to write this novel by a Singer 99K found near the Singer sewing factory where it was made, which she purchased for 20 pounds.

The Sewing Machine was crowd funded by subscription and published through Unbound. Readers can pledge for a book at

I thought it would be interesting to read a book that was published this way, and of course the focus on home sewing was a perk.

The story, set in Scotland, begins in 1911 and jumps across the century to 2016.

The world of each time setting is described, from the fortnightly shampoo and set to the refillable compact for woman’s facial powder, the rise of unions and WWI. As character Connie thinks, "the constant push to re-do and change was overwhelming sometimes." Characters must adapt as the century brings huge changes. Nurses leave off starched hats and cuffs and pinned aprons for zipped uniforms and paper hats. I never considered the huge learning curve required when the hand cranked sewing machine was replaced by electric.

As an American, I was Goggling a variety of things to find their American equivalent. I got that a broadside was a newspaper and understood the concept of a boot sale. (That is not about low prices on winter books, but a flea market out of car trunks!) I had no idea of what a kirby grip is: it is a bobby pin.

In 1911 the Singer sewing machine factory workers in Clydebank, Scotland, organized for a strike. Factory worker Jean’s boyfriend Donald is a union organizer. Scientific Management was the new business model with its emphasis on efficiency and profit. The result was decreasing the number of workers thus increasing the work load.  Jean’s father is anti-union and he turns her out of the house. When the strike fails, Jean and Donald leave town. But first she hides a secret note, wrapped tightly around a bobbin that is inserted into a new sewing machine. During WWI Donald "takes the king's shilling" and joins the service.

In 1954 Connie, a nurse, is living with Kathleen, who has always sewn on an old Singer sewing machine which her first husband purchased for her. It outlasts the 1963 electric model bought by her second husband Alf. Connie decides to seek employment in the sewing department for the local "co-operative" hospital.

In 1980 Ruth is a nurse at the hospital. Unmarried and pregnant, she has been rejected by her parents. Jean has an accident and ends up in the hospital. She has a letter to be mailed and Ruth agrees to handle it. Meantime, a woman from the sewing department helps alter Ruth's nursing uniform to hide the pregnancy.

In 2016 Fred has inherited his Granda Alf’s tenement apartment, complete with a cat and an old Singer sewing machine. Three generations have lived in the flat. Fred is unemployed and when he considers keeping the flat his girl dumps him. He learns to use the old Singer to remake Granda’s clothes and shoe bags for the neighbor kids.

The multiple time and story lines are a bit confusing at times, but this kind of plot structure is not unusual today. The scenes are full of period detail, told with a loving nostalgia about the old ways. Mysteries and relationships are revealed in the end, all tied to the Singer sewing machine.

Readers who are sewers will particularly enjoy this book, but also those who enjoy historical fiction, woman's fiction, and character-driven plot lines.

I revived a free book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

from the publisher:
It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again. Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her. More than 100 years after his grandmother's sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams. He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

Sewing Machine
by Natalie Fergie
Unbound Digital
Pub Date 17 Apr 2017 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Janesville: An American Story

"History. Vision. Grit."  Janesville City Hall Mural

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein has won many accolades, including 100 Notable Books in 2017 from the New York Times Book Review and the McKinsey Business Book of the Year. 

Goldstein presents the story of a town and its people coping with the closing of the GM factory and how the town and families worked to reinvent themselves. 

Janesville, WI was a tight-knit community with a successful history of factories beginning with cotton mills in the late 19th c, including Parker Pens and the GM auto assembly plant and the factories that supplied it.

The book covers five years, beginning in 2008 with Paul Ryan, a Janesville native, receiving the phone call from GM informing him of their decision to close the Janesville plant. Goldstein portrays the impact on employees and their families: the cascading job losses, the ineffectual retraining programs, the engulfing poverty, the men who take employment at plants in other states and see their families a few hours a week, teenagers working to help keep food on the table while preparing for college.  

This is one of those non-fiction books that is engrossing while being informative, bringing readers into the struggles, successes, and failures of individual families. If you want to know about the people who have lost the American Dream, the impact of business and political decisions, and what programs 'work' and which have not delivered, then Janesville is for you.

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Simon & Schuster
$16 paperback
ISBN 9781501102264

Getting Personal

I married into a GM family. My father-in-law had a white-collar job at Fisher Body in Flint and ordered supplies to be sent to Janesville, WI. My husband worked as a welder on the line several summers while in college.

My father-in-law's Fisher Body pins
In 1931, my thirteen-year-old father-in-law lost his father to TB. His mother soon remarried and a year later was divorced. She had a Fourth Grade education and was sixteen when married. She had two sons to support. That is when she went to work for GM in Flint.

I noted her family all called her Girl. I learned the nickname dated to when she was the only woman on the floor and when the men wanted her help, they would call, "Girl!"

Girl was part of the Woman's Emergency Brigade and delivered food during the 1936-7 sit-down strike and was a proud Union member.

Girl's oldest boy, like his dad, had TB. Her youngest son worked for the CCC, took classes at Baker College, and got a job as a clerk at the auto factory where his mother was a machine operator. Together, in 1940, their income was $2,228.

When my husband and I would visit his folks sometimes they would take us on a drive to see the old factories. And over the years we were very aware of how, briefly, the auto industry offered our families great opportunities. My father-in-law sent three boys to college and had a comfortable early retirement. My own father had relocated to Metro Detroit for a job in the auto industry, and we had a good working-class life and important benefits as my mother suffered from chronic health issues. 

from the publisher's website:

* Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year * 800-CEO-READ Business Book of the Year * A New York Times Notable Book * A Washington Post Notable Book * An NPR Best Book of 2017 * A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2017 * An Economist Best Book of 2017 * A Business Insider Best Book of 2017 *

“A gripping story of psychological defeat and resilience” (Bob Woodward, The Washington Post)—an intimate account of the fallout from the closing of a General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, and a larger story of the hollowing of the American middle class.

This is the story of what happens to an industrial town in the American heartland when its main factory shuts down—but it’s not the familiar tale. Most observers record the immediate shock of vanished jobs, but few stay around long enough to notice what happens next when a community with a can-do spirit tries to pick itself up.

Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Amy Goldstein spent years immersed in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the nation’s oldest operating General Motors assembly plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession. Now, with intelligence, sympathy, and insight into what connects and divides people in an era of economic upheaval, Goldstein shows the consequences of one of America’s biggest political issues. Her reporting takes the reader deep into the lives of autoworkers, educators, bankers, politicians, and job re-trainers to show why it’s so hard in the twenty-first century to recreate a healthy, prosperous working class.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gateway To The Moon: Rediscovering A Family's History

In 1478 the Spanish Inquisition was established. The year that Columbus went on his first voyage of discovery, 1492, was also the year that all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. Unless they converted to Christianity--or preferred to be burned at the stake.

The Christian Jews outwardly lived like Christians, attending mass, but secretly clung to their way of life, lighting candles on Friday, avoiding pork, and circumcising their sons.

So, the Conversos were targeted, massacred, imprisoned, tortured, and burned. The Jews fled to the New World, but the Inquisition followed to Mexico and the Jews moved into New Mexico.

Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris imagines the story of one Jewish/Converso family whose ancestor, Luis de Torres, came to the New World with Columbus, following the Torres family through the 15th and 16th centuries and into the 20th century.

Living in Entada de la Luna, the Torres are good Catholics who traditionally light candles on Friday night, disdain to eat pork, and circumcise their sons. The cemetery holds generations of their ancestors. The townsfolk know that their ancestors came from Spain but no longer remember what brought them there.

The story is told in two timelines, telling the contemporary story of Miguel Torres, a teenager with a passion for astronomy, and that of his ancestors beginning with Luis de Torres, a secret Jew born Leni Halvri before the Alhambra Decree.

The horrific history of the Inquisition is revealed through the lives of the Torres family, providing drama and intrigue to the slower, more introspective story of Miguel. Miguel's world has also has its violence and sorrow.

Morris's beautiful writing is a pleasure to read. Miguel is a wonderful, memorable character. And it was interesting to learn about this part of history. I very much enjoyed this novel, a combination of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and family history.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Find a reading group guide at

Gateway to the Moon
Mary Morris
Doubleday Books
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
$27.95 hardcover
ISBN: 9780385542906

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bewitched by Madeline Miller's Circe

Madeline Miller's new novel Circe was mesmerizing. I did not want to stop reading! It was unexpected, this absorption in a book about a Greek mythic figure.

I had read the Greek Myths (Robert Graves's two volumes!) and Homer and Virgil--all the classics-- long ago in high school and college. I knew Circe from these tales.

But Miller's book is more than a retelling of the myths. Circe comes alive in these pages. And if, yes, the characters are Titans and Olympians and heroes, it took no trouble for my suspension of belief to accept them. Perhaps due to the prevalence of magic and witches and superhuman power in literature and film today. But I credit Miller's amazing writing.

Circe's world holds to a tenuous peace between the powerful Titans and the upstart Olympians. These gods are vengeful and imperious, all-powerful and eternal. She is the daughter of Helios, a golden-eyed child overlooked and dismissed, her very voice offensive to the gods.

She has been fascinated by mortal humans ever since Prometheus gave them fire, earning the punishment of eternal torment. Secretly, she brings the bound Prometheus a cup of nectar. Circe the dejected is also a girl of will and defiance.

She also makes many mistakes.

She discovers her gift for witchcraft, the use of herbs and will to cause transformation. She employs her power to transform the mortal man she loves. But he loves another and Circe transforms her rival Scylla into her true form--a man-eating multi-armed monster. The gods punish Circle by exiling her to a deserted island.

On her island, Circe spends centuries perfecting her craft with herbs, her friends the wild beasts and the occasional exiled nymph. She is visited by the gossip Hermes who becomes her lover, and the inventive Daedalus who gifts her a magnificent loom. Later, Daedalus needs her to help him entrap her sister's monstrous child, the Minotaur.

Sailors sometimes land on her shore; she learned not to trust them and turns them into swine. Then arrives the weary Odysseus; his enemy Athena has beset his journey home from the Trojan War with cruel trials. He stays with Circe for a year, changing her life forever.

I need to read Miller's previous book The Song of Achilles! I already have it on my Kindle. She is a marvelous story teller.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

by Madeline Miller
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date 10 Apr 2018
ISBN: 9780316556347
PRICE: $27.00 (USD)

Puss in the Corner Antique Quilt Top

Last week I shared an antique quilt top gifted to me by a friend. I have another early 1900s quilt top in my collection, purchased many years ago at the Royal Oak Flea Market.

The block pattern is Puss in the Corner. The blocks are set side by side with a wide sashing in a mourning print, popular around 1890 to 1925, and cinnamon pink squares at the corners. Double or cinnamon pink was common between 1860 and 1920.
The block pattern is very simple, consisting of a center square, four rectangles, and four corner squares.

What made this quilt stand out for me was the sashing fabric, a busy black, white, and gray print of circles and filigree shape. Seen close up, the border print keeps the eye moving across the quilt. From a distance, it almost looks gray.

Mourning prints, also called Shaker Gray, Lenox Gray, and Silver Gray, were popular until 1925. In her book Making History, Barbara Brackman quotes a Montgomery Ward catalog as calling them appropriate for 'elderly ladies.'

The fabrics in this top are typical of the late 1900s and early 20th c. Mourning prints, navy and cadet blue prints, shirtings, woven checks, and double pinks make up the majority of the fabrics, with some browns and wines.

In the photo below is a white on navy floral print, a blue check, and a mourning print.

In the center of the quilt is a yellow calico print, a splash of brightness used in only two blocks. Perhaps it represents a glint of hope.

Turkey red was a colorfast dye that was highly popular through the 1920s when it was replaced by newer dyes. In the photo below are two turkey red prints, a cadet blue polka dot fabric, and a black and white mourning print in a floral stripe.

Below is a block with several cadet blue fabrics, typical of 1880s to 1910. Also, a navy blue with a print in small dots forming a background image for a floating floral shape. The center square is an interesting mourning print in bubble shapes.

 There are also woven checks and a few brown prints.

There are not as many fabrics in claret or wine on this quilt, which was typical of quilts 1880-1910. Below, upper right, is an example.
 The top was hand sewn with with thread.

These fabrics are in quite good condition and the top was not washed.

Free online patterns for Puss in the Corner can be found at

A downloadable pattern for $6 is available at

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

There was life before Anna, and there was life after Anna. There was a happy marriage, then there was distrust and heartbreak. And it all fell apart, after Anna.

Lisa Scottoline's After Anna is a riveting story of the destruction of a marriage, innocent imprisonment, and a mother's deep love.

Noah and Maggie have created a happy life together, both having overcome past tragedy. Maggie's postpartum mental state led to her being institutionalized, her husband divorcing her, taking sole custody of their infant daughter. Noah lost his wife and raised his son alone until falling for Maggie. They are truly happy together.

Maggie is ecstatic when her daughter Anna, now seventeen, contacts her. With the death of her father and step-mother, Anna wants Maggie in her life and asks to be taken in. Noah is supportive. They will be a happy blended family.

Maggie is desperate to make up for failing Anna as an infant, and Anna uses that guilt to manipulate her. Noah insists that Anna follow house rules and parental guidance. Anna is not pleased.

Everything goes wrong. Anna accuses Noah of sexual advances and takes out a restraining order. And when Anna turns up dead, Noah is the prime suspect and is convicted of her murder. Maggie is devastated and preparing to sue for divorce when she is contacted by Anna's school therapist and everything Maggie thought she knew is turned upside down.

The novel is told in two time lines, Noah and Maggie before Anna's arrival and leading up to her death, and Noah on trial and in prison 'after Anna.'

It is an entertaining read that I didn't want to put down. As usual, Scottoline delivers a novel with suspense, human interest, and a twist of contemporary social concerns, with lots of courtroom and legal scenes.

I received a free e-book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

After Anna
by Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
ISBN: 9781250099655
PRICE: $27.99

Monday, April 9, 2018

Voices From the Rust Belt

Voices From the Rust Belt is an offering of essays edited by Anne Trubek on the legacy of a post-industrial world in the once great manufacturing centers including Buffalo, Detroit, Flint, Akron, and Chicago.

I found these essays to be beautifully written and personally moving. I savored each essay, reading them one at a time. The stories are about places I know, stories I am familiar with.

These are stories that break my heart.

Getting Personal
I am a Rust Belt girl.

I spent my first ten years of life just north of Buffalo until 1963 when my family moved to the Detroit suburbs so my dad could find work in the auto industry. With a high school education and hands-on experience, he was able to get a good job with benefits. My grandfather was a GM engineer, my brother is a Ford engineer, and other family members worked on the line.

My husband is from outside of Flint, MI, where his father worked at Fisher Body and his grandmother, a GM employee, was in the Woman's Brigade during the famous sit-down strike. My husband's brother was the third generation to be a Flint resident and he raised his children there.
Union pins that belonged to Valdora 'Girl' Bekofske
As a young wife, I lived in and around Philadelphia, including in one of the earliest industrial centers, surrounded by empty factories. We returned to Michigan, for a while living in Lansing a short way from the downtown GM assembly plant. At retirement, we moved into my family home in Metro Detroit.

Our families were lucky. Dad often mused that he had seen the best days of working in the auto industry.  Dad survived several downsizing cuts thanks to his seniority. My dad-in-law took advantage of early retirement and lived into his nineties, spending more time retired than in his career. But he had to watch the Flint and Grand Blanc plants die.

Looking Deeper Between the Pages

The book is divided into thematic sections.

Growing Up
  • Jaqueline Marino's A Girl's Youngstown begins with memories of the 1970s pollution that made her and her sister hold their breath when crossing the Market Street Bridge. It made me recall the smell of entering Tonawanda, driving up the River Road past the Ashland gasoline storage tanks.
  • The Kidnapped Children of Detroit by Marsha Music recalls White Flight and ponders how today Detroit can move forward without the crippling divisions of the past. 
  • Busing, A White Girl's Tale by Amanda Shaffer considers what she gained from the experience. 
  • North Park, With and Without Hate by Jeff Z. Klein recounts growing up Jewish in Buffalo when prejudice was out in the open. 
  • Life on the "slag heap of society" is presented by David Faulk in Moundsville. In Love and Survival: A Flint Romance, Layla Meiller admits her hometown taught her a pervasive sense of vulnerability.
Day to Day in the Rust Belt
  • Dave Newman talks about starting over in mid-life in A Middle-Aged Student's Guide to Social Work as he learns the limitations of social work. 
  • Fresh to Death is Eric Woodyard's recounting of his double life drinking in a Flint neighborhood bar at night while working as an award-winning sportswriter by day.  
  • Ben Gwin shares a heartbreaking story of addiction in Rust Belt Heroin Chic. Henry Louis Taylor Jr. asks Will Blacks Rise or Be Forgotten in the New Buffalo, proving that the racial division of progress plagues Rust Belt cities other than Detroit. 
  • Aaron Foley asks Can Detroit Save White People? 
  • Huda Al-Marashi writes about Cleveland's Little Iraq community.
Geography of the Heartland
  • John Lloyd Clayton remembers a Cincinnati gay bar in A Night at the Golden Lion Lounge. 
  • The lack of identity in assimilated white European families is addressed in Ryan Schnurr's Family Bones. 
  • The Fauxtopias of Detroit's Suburbs by James D. Griffioen discusses Henry Ford's legacy, from the Rouge plant to Greenfield Village's idyllic nostalgia that whitewashes history. Eric 
  • Anderson juxtaposes working in the steel mills, gentrification, and art in Cleveland in Pretty Things to Hang on the Wall
  • I learned that "redneck" came from the red bandannas worn by Matewan unionizers in King Coal and the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum by Carolyne Whelan. 
  • Martha Bayne questions accident or intention in Seed or Weed? 
  • On the Evolution of Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail 
  • Ecologist 
  • Kathryn M. Flinn realizes the diversity of Rust Belt ecology in This Is A Place
  • Mobility as benefit or detriment is considered in That Better Place; or the Problem with Mobility by G. M. Donley. Donley looks at how historic suburban growth impacted downtowns and offers ways to improve where we live instead of chasing the 'dream home' elsewhere.
Leaving and Staying
  • The pursuit of a relationship brings Sally Errico to move in Losing Lakewood. Notes from the Expatriate Underground by Margaret Sullivan is about nostalgic Buffalo natives looking for connection. 
  • Confessions of a Rust Belt Orphan; or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Akron by Jason Segedy recalls the 'smell of good jobs' when Akron was the Rubber Capital of the World. 
  • Our idealistic image of an upward line of progress must be replaced with the cycle of boom and bust. 
  • And Connor Coyne talks about what it is like to bath a baby in Flint Water in Bathtime.

Voices from the Rust Belt will be poignant reading for those of us associated with these cities. We will connect with some readings, and definitely will learn we are not alone. I was surprised how Buffalo's experience of white flight was not too unlike Detroit's.

The stories will inform those who want to understand the Rust Belt experience on the personal level. There are essays that dig deeper, dissecting a history of public policy and boom and bust economics that contributed to the decline of these cities. Best of all, included are suggestions for moving forward.

This book would be a good discussion starter in the classroom or in a book club.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Voices from the Rust Belt
by Anne Trubek
ISBN 9781250162977
PRICE $16.00 (USD)