Book Reviews

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29 Houses: A Moving Journey


Author: Andrea Jones Walker, Pensacola Branch
Reviewed by: Karen McAferty Morris, Pensacola Branch

book coverReading this fascinating memoir calls to mind all the phrases about “home”: “There’s no place like home” and “home sweet home.” In this compelling narrative, Andrea Walker recalls her life from when she is 2 years old until she is 57, having lived in 29 houses. It’s a story about the quest to find stability and a true home.

From a blissful early childhood in Dallas, to the heartbreaking loss of her father at the age of 13, to a nomad-like summer working in carnivals when she was 15, she is constantly uprooted, and must cope with the decisions of her youthful, widowed mother that keep her and her brothers off-balance.

Walker recalls her life in vivid details. She finds happiness in a small Catholic school until financial issues force a transfer to a public junior high, where everything is different. She is sensitive and shy. Constant life changes test her irrepressible spirit and optimism, and pull the reader into her corner, as she rebels in her high school years, embarks on an early marriage, navigates life as a single mother, begins a second marriage, and goes through the challenges of motherhood and achieving educational goals.

Another notable feature of this memoir is the evocation of different decades of her life, such as: “We hung out in the dim light of a lava lamp and listened to Bob Dylan; Woodie Guthrie; Pete Seeger; Joan Baez; and Peter, Paul, and Mary…”

A desire for home is as universal and ancient as Odysseus. Reading Walker’s memoir validates that, and you are right there with her through the places and years as she is tries to achieve just that desire.

Independently published, 2020, $18
ISBN # 979-8669748012


The Edge of Carmel

Author: Barbara Jean Chamberlain, Santa Clara County Branch
Reviewed by: Susan Zerweck, Santa Clara County Branch

book coverThe fourth book in the Jaden Steele Mystery series by northern California author Barbara Jean Chamberlain, “The Edge of Carmel” takes us on a quest by heroine Jaden to help a battered woman, who, as with most abused spouses, refuses help because she feels it’s her fault he beats her. The series takes place in quaint, lovely Carmel By the Sea, where Jaden is the owner of a knife shop, Slices of Carmel. Travelers who have been to Carmel will recognize the well-known streets and places in the book.

When the woman goes missing, the husband is arrested for murder, but the plot turns in a bizarre way and Jaden is left with a secret that can never be revealed.

I would suggest that readers also purchase “A Slice of Carmel,” “Slash and Turn,” and “The Sword of Smuggler’s Point,” the three previous books in the series, which are all interesting reading and captivating. This fourth book has many references to those previous reads and perhaps a bit more repetition than the others, but very enjoyable.

Barbara Jean Chamberlain and her husband reside in Aptos, California. She developed the concept for the mysteries while working in Carmel, about a half hour’s drive from her home. She has a bachelor’s degree from University of California Santa Cruz and a masters in library and information science from San Jose State University. This reviewer is looking forward to the next book starring Jaden Steele, “Little Miss Muppet.”

Fantastix Studios, Ink, 2021, $15
ISBN: 978-0983539520


Beyond the Wall

Author: Gail Wilson Kenna, Chesapeake Bay Branch
Reviewed by: Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Chesapeake Bay

book coverGail Kenna’s second edition of her nonfiction book, “Beyond the Wall,” is both noteworthy and compelling. Inspired by a group of U.S. prisoners incarcerated in Venezuelan prisons in the early 1990s, this prolific author recounts the story of “The Dirty Dozen” in an effort to expose a “pay and you go” penal system in a country where justice is frayed.

What is a person’s moral responsibility when faced with glaring injustice? Kenna answers the question in 14 interrelated stories in “Beyond the Wall.”

From 1991 to 1995, Kenna lived in Caracas with her husband, a defense attaché. She accepted a position in the U.S. Embassy as mental health coordinator. While visiting prisons, she confronted men with drug problems.

Ironically, the drug trade was run by officials and guards. The injustice she witnessed 30 years ago opened her eyes to the uncertainty our democracy confronts in current times, which is why she reissued this book with its memorable image of Lady Justice on the cover.

Throughout the book, Kenna holds the reader’s attention by citing captivating quotes that speak truth about the injustices of erratic prison sentences. In essence, she longs for prisoners to receive “equal punishment for the same offense,” as well as the attention and care that could enable those released to contribute meaningfully to society.

This gifted author’s careful eye for detail carries the reader on an unforgettable journey. Readers will reap the rewards of paying close attention to the lessons embodied in each chapter of this intriguing book. Collectively, these lessons offer a fresh perspective on a subject that will resonate for decades.

Crosshill Creek Publications, 2020, $15
ISBN: 978-1-7341602-3-9


Ledra’s Book

Author: Luanna K. Leisure, Santa Clara County Branch
Reviewed by: Edie Matthews, Santa Clara County Branch

Luanna Leisure’s memoir of her indomitable mother could have been titled “Poetry, Pies, and Perseverance.” The youngest of six, Leisure did comprehensive research that not only chronicles her mother’s life but includes family genealogy, historical and contemporary photographs, her mother’s poetry, interviews with friends, relatives, and contributions from 11 of her mother’s grandchildren.

In 1925, at age 15, Ledra A. White eloped with her 19-year-old sweetheart, Ethmer Lynch. Clearly a love match, the 45-year marriage survived the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and numerous trips between Missouri and California, all while raising six children.

Early on, the couple lived in an isolated two-room cabin with no electricity or running water. Ledra worked side-by-side with her husband on 80 acres belonging to his parents. She helped raise the livestock, milk cows, churn butter, cultivate a garden, and cook the meals for her growing family and her in-laws. Four of her children were born in the cabin — a friend helping with the births.

Ledra’s creativity could not be contained. Poems might be sparked by inspiration, current events, or necessity. When her daughter struggled to write a poem for school, Ledra provided the topic. She opened the door, gazed out, and called to her daughter, “Belva, get a pencil and paper. It snowed last night.”

A born actress, Ledra performed poems, songs, and a scene from “Mary Clary” she’d memorized for a school contest. She entertained at senior centers, and she’d spontaneously do a rendition of the Charleston for Leisure’s friends.

Always seeking a better life for their burgeoning family, the Lynches finally settled in Visalia, California. However, Ledra never lost touch with her roots. In addition to a diligent work ethic, her conversations were punctuated with Missouri colloquialisms like “All Swan!” (An exclamation for “Wow!”)

As the children got married and provided grandchildren, Ledra and Ethmer’s home became the gathering place for Sunday dinners. Fried chicken was always on the menu, along with homemade pies. A skilled cook, if unexpected company dropped by, Ledra was in the kitchen whipping up a pie to enjoy with coffee. She often used peaches from the tree in the backyard. Her grandchildren recall these Sundays with fondness.

Luanna Leisure’s tribute to her mother is a narrative that will be treasured by the Lynch clan. It reminds us of our ancestors’ spirit and determination to overcome obstacles and struggles in a quest to survive, raise a family, and achieve the American Dream.

2020, Independently published LuLu.com, $13.16
ISBN: 978-0578169989


Our Heart Psalms

Author: Joyce Ellis, Minnesota Branch
Reviewed by Mary Halverson Schofield, Minnesota Branch

Our-Heart-cover“Our Heart Psalms” is a devotional book that offers tools to those who are on a journey, or want to start a journey, to form a closer relationship with God. Joyce Ellis, an inspirational speaker, has spoken throughout the USA and Central America, has written 16 books, and serves as a missionary in Guatemala.

Ellis chooses her life stories, excerpts from other soul-searchers’ perspectives, and passages from “The Book of Psalms” to show how she has written her own psalms. She then teaches the reader how to write tailor-made psalms in their own life’s situations, stressing pouring out one’s heart to God as the psalmists of old.

In the main body of the book, chapters are crafted around feelings such as pain, anger, and depression. Each chapter begins with a quote backed up with a psalm from the Bible. Ellis relates her own life stories coping with the emotion and shares a psalm she or someone else has written for that feeling. Readers are invited to write their own reaction to that emotion. Each chapter follows the same pattern. One can find the emotion he or she is dealing with and get to work writing the psalm.

This book is for seekers striving to find deeper meaning with God by getting closer to Him through praying and listening to his guidance. “Our Heart Psalms” can be used when needed and not as a forced or a stone-skipping-on-water book.

“Our Heart Psalms” is a toolbox you will be grateful to have while finding the fires that burn in your heart and by communing with God through writing your experiences down in psalm. It offers a fresh start anyone for feeling adrift from their relationship with God, or for those who are taking a fresh look at themselves and their bond with Him.

You will use this book in peace, angst, joy, pain, and in every other emotion you can conjure to talk and write with God about.

2020, SonRise Devotionals, $12.99
ISBN: 978-1645262701


Confluence

Author:  Karen McAferty Morris, Pensacola Branch
Reviewed by Andrea Walker, Pensacola Branch

Confluence-cover“Confluence,” Karen McAferty Morris’ second, award-winning chapbook, is a small book of thought-provoking poems that will keep you returning to reread and pause to contemplate. Often nostalgic, sometimes melancholic, her poetry contains themes of seasons and aging and tells stories of people, incidents, and moments that flow together with the poet’s pensive musings.

Her title poem, “Confluence,” pays tribute to her father and shows the past flowing into the present. The language is poignant as she “smiled until a pinch of sorrow behind my eyes took it away.”

A master of form, Morris opens her book with “Not as Seasons in Turn,” a Sapphic stanza. Its melancholy tone emphasizes memories of losses that happen unexpectedly, unlike the orderly seasons. “Radiance: To My New Love,” written in the more familiar form of sonnet, reveals the flowing together of dark into light and back again.

Readers will find perfect haiku, true to nature, true to form, true to portraying a snapshot with a revelation or another perspective. Always seeing something new in nature, the poet interspersed these seemingly simple poems, like a cool breeze, throughout the pages.

People populate the poetry, and Morris carefully observes people and circumstances. The most intriguing poem is “After a Miracle,” written after reading a newspaper article about a young girl in Ethiopia who had been kidnapped, beaten, and left to die. Relatives found her being guarded by lions, seemingly a miracle, indeed. The brutal and sad event flows into something mystical. The poet then speculates on the effect, asking, “What is life like after a marvel, can it return to the ordinary — or do those touched often pause to search the skies, or watch the pieces of the world just beyond the corners of their wary eyes?”

Although the poems speak for themselves, painting unmistakable images, Morris includes photographs that enhance the work, places that will invite you to slow down and contemplate. Such is the effect of the concluding poem, “Channeling Thoreau in a Time of Coronavirus.” This poem speaks lovingly to us about the unknowns we are currently facing and suggesting we “live more bravely, if need be, by ourselves in a small cabin near a pond.” “Confluence” offers readers an insightful view of living life more deliberately.

2020, Independently published, $9
ISBN: 979-8633131192


River Country: A Poem-Play

Author: Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (& Robert P. Arthur), Chesapeake Bay Branch
Reviewed by: Susan Camp, Chesapeake Bay Branch

river-country-book-cover“What is it about the Bay that startles the heart?” asks Amber, the protagonist in “River Country: A Poem-Play,” a new publication from poet and artist Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda and Virginia poet and playwright Robert P. Arthur.

Arthur selected poems from two of Kreiter-Foronda’s poetry collections, “Death Comes Riding” and “River Country,” and developed them into the story of Amber and her alter ego Suzanne, both representations of Kreiter-Foronda herself, who relive the memory of a near-death experience as a young girl and the anguish of their mother’s final illness and death.

When we meet Amber, she has found love with Patricio, her “Bolivian Indian,” a man who belongs to a land and culture far removed from Amber’s home beside a quiet river flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. He encourages Amber to speak of her grief. In the final scene, Amber achieves a sense of peace as she speaks of the valley in Bolivia, where she first met Patricio.

“I am told if I pray, a deity
will carry me again to the Andes’ heights.
Today it is enough to send
my spirit there to rest…”

Kreiter-Foronda’s luminous, lyrical poetry casts a magic spell as Amber reunites with the ghosts of her mother and father, finally releasing them to their rest. The haunting imagery of her descriptions of the creatures and plants that inhabit the river and its banks provides us with a feast for the senses. “What is it about the Bay that startles the heart?”

Several folk songs, some traditional and others with new lyrics, are woven into the action of the play. The songs are accompanied by flute, guitar, and humble tin whistle, complementing the pastoral imagery and the atmosphere of plaintive longing for the mother’s love that has been lost and can never be regained on earth.

Read “River Country: A Poem-Play” aloud with your friends, your book club, or your writing group. Let Kreiter-Foronda’s words fill you with renewed awe for the glorious mysteries of life, death, and love both old and new.

Virginia Poet Laureate Emerita Dr. Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda has co-edited three anthologies and published nine books of poetry, including “The Embrace: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo,” winner of the Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz. She has also won the Ellen Anderson Award, a Virginia Cultural Laureate Award, and a resolution of appreciation from the Virginia Board of Education for her service as poet laureate, an Edgar Allan Poe Poetry Award, among others. Her poems have been published widely throughout the United States and abroad.

Unicorn Bay Press, 2019, $17.95
ISBN 9781943416479

 


In the Beginning

Author: Mary Lou Taylor, Santa Clara Branch
Reviewed by: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch

In-the-Beginning-coverMary Lou Taylor’s third poetry collection, “In the Beginning,” is an extraordinary blending of art and poetry. Each carefully crafted poem, using the Bible as a reference, is accompanied by a beautiful stencil print from the late artist David Park’s, “Genesis Suite.”

The story of how the book came together is as fascinating as the work itself. David Park was an American painter who was very influential in the Figurative Movement, which in the 1950s represented a departure from Abstract Impressionism. Taylor discovered Park’s artwork on an art tour and was captivated by his striking and delicate images. Then, a series of synchronistic events came together to make the project possible.

Taylor fortuitously learned that the artist’s daughter was in her book club and gave permission to publish the prints. She also contributed a moving memoir of her father, which is included in the book. Taylor then learned that a fellow poet’s daughter was photographing Park’s paintings for a retrospective planned by three museums. From that concurrence came the 14 beautifully photographed illustrations that inspired the poems.

Other memorable poems include retellings of the “Tower of Babel,” “Joseph and the Pharaoh,” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” In concert, these poems and pictures both augment and clarify each other.

Together, the poems and visuals are powerful and evocative. The poem “Lost,” told in Eve’s voice, speaks of the loss of Eden and is enhanced by a resonant image depicting the moment the earliest couple pluck the apple. A solitary image of a woman looking over her shoulder is accompanied by the poem “Lot’s Wife,” which recounts the feelings and emotions of a woman forced to leave her home.

This volume of ekphrastic poetry is a pleasure on many levels. It can be appreciated for the sheer enjoyment of the poems and the art, as well as for a glimpse into the creative process, shared by this talented and generous poet.

2019, Frog on the Moon Press, $20
ISBN: 978-1-5323-8089-1

 


 

More Winds
A Second Collection of Poems

Author: Carol H. Ehrlich, Denver Branch
Reviewer: Ann Klaiman, Denver Branch

More-Winds-cover“I travel the back nine,” says Carol Ehrlich, speaking as both golfer and 93-year-old. Throughout “More Winds,” she speaks with many additional voices.

Some of us read books of poetry neatly, front to back; others read in chunks and random flippings. The poems of “More Winds” reveal themselves comfortably with either method. Be sure to appreciate the cover graced with Willem Wils’ gorgeous watercolor before diving in.

Ehrlich’s poems are relatively short, with only half a dozen going onto a second page. Some poems fall into stanzas. Most lay down uneven lines, a hallmark of her chosen form: free verse. These are not overly dense poems. They are from the heart, honest, sometimes with humor, and often with the impact of understatement.

One seven-poem sequence takes readers through scenes of love and life with Max, her husband of nearly 70 years. First there’s “My Gift for You” with “my steady alwaysness you can count on like the dear mountains,” next into “Love transcends the noise,” then “Just when I thought we were too old for romance,” on through “as the alpenglow follows the sunset I know you haven’t gone,” and in “Solitude — Thoughts of a New Widow,” ending the sequence, there is “comfort in the echoes of my heart.”

After writing factual, objective material for years, Ehrlich became a poet and says, “The charge in both is truth.” She chooses to see the good in people and the glory in nature, and that’s a legacy she will leave to her family, including 12 great grandchildren.

In the poem “On Becoming 86 Years Old,” after recapping the joys of a full life, Ehrlich concludes, like a climber taking in the view: “I catch my breath at the top of the stairs — I know all this is still mine to live.” And for readers to enjoy.

2020, iUniverse, $10.99
ISBN: 978-1-5320-9411-8

 


 

The Missing Driscoll

Author: Judith Fabris, Palm Springs Branch
Reviewed by: Donna Weeks, Palm Springs Branch

The-Missing-Driscoll-coverIt’s 1966 and two young cousins from opposite sides of the Atlantic make contact by mail. Thus continues the sweeping story of two interwoven families, connected through generations of shared experiences, both exhilarating and tragic. This is the second book in what will become a trilogy by author Judith Fabris.

Set primarily in the 1970s, the plot revolves around the loving friendship between two cousins, Penny and Lavinia, and the theft of a priceless painting. Penny is the curator of a Washington, D.C., museum dedicated to the work of her grandmother, Maud Driscoll. Penny’s British cousin, Lavinia, who lives in New York with her family, has just suffered a horrific loss.

When Penny is invited to co-curate a retrospective of Maud’s paintings at Paris’ Jeu de Paume museum, it offers the young women a new beginning and a thrilling adventure. En route to Paris, disaster strikes when a featured painting is stolen. A dangerous stranger stalks the two women, putting their lives and Penny’s reputation in peril.

Fabris does a masterful job of hooking our attention and guiding us to fabulous locations — Paris, New York, East Berlin, and Southern California’s fabled beach communities, which she describes in lush detail.

She introduces fascinating characters, like Vie Lee, a determined private detective hired to investigate the theft. Lavinia’s German neighbor, Trudy, takes Penny to East Berlin to enlist the services of Ernst Weber, a collector of art recovered from the Nazis. Gerard Troyer, curator of the Jeu de Paume, and his two handsome sons, Michel and Jean-Luc, become family to the two cousins. The sinister Bill Tennent adds an element of danger to the plot.

Mystery, romance, friendship and family, with a lovely glimpse of life among the privileged are present in this novel. Anyone seeking a compelling story, beautifully told, will enjoy reading this book.

A Vegas Publisher, LLC, 2020, $14.99
ISBN: 978-0-9968437-6-8

 



The Sugarplum Tree


Author: Andrea Antico, Denver Branch
Illustrator: Virginia L. Small, Denver Branch
Reviewed by: Carol Ehrlich, Denver Branch

Capturing the magic of the classic children’s story about a sugarplum fairy, Andrea Antico sets the stage for an imaginative winter narrative about a barren deciduous tree living in the middle of an evergreen forest.

Sugarplum-tree-coverNeglected and even abused by children who come to play and picnic in the forest, the tree rues the loss of its vibrant summer self. The legendary fairy discovers it drooping amidst the forest greenery and voila! with her wand, transforms it into a sugarplum tree.

Charming illustrations make vivid the elements of Antico’s story: initial disdain for ugliness (the poor tree), recognition of hidden value (discovering beauty in the tree once it was decorated), and the heartwarming benefits of kindness (the ultimate fun around the tree, then its spillover goodness to family and friends).   

Young readers see without being told in so many words the rewards of inclusion. It’s a skillfully executed lesson in humanity, one created by an elementary school teacher and librarian who knows kids — and whose grasp of young children’s capacities is obvious.   

She has added the bonus of concrete suggestions for teachers (and presumably parents) to enhance the reading or telling of the book. And Virginia Small’s delightful, sometimes surprising illustrations add fillip to the work. 

“The Sugarplum Tree” would be a worthy addition to offerings in libraries and schools, as well as a fun hold for families with young children where bedtime stories and quiet-time story hour would welcome this addition. 

2020, Kindereads, $16.99
ISBN# 978-0-09893064-47


These Flecks of Color: New and Select Poems


Author: Carolyn Kreither-Foronda, Chesapeake Bay Branch
Reviewed by:  Ann Falcone Shalaski, Chesapeake Bay Branch

Carolyn Kreither-Foronda’s masterful poems go outside the box in her recent book, “These Flecks of Color: New and Selected Poems.” A lush gem, her collection is dazzling, fluid, moving, and good for the soul.

Always on the lookout for the presence of wonder, Foronda masterfully created poems that explore individual responsibility in relation to what is natural.

In the words of Hollins University professor Cathryn Hankla, Foronda’s poems “strike the ear along with the intelligence, evoking the natural world, visual art, questions of self, transcendence, and responsibility in relation to what is natural.”

The poems in “These Flecks of Color” create a cohesive whole that mirrors her personally: honesty, generosity, and truth in her writings.

Not only will the readers see the things in life that are worthwhile, but they see further and deeper because of this poet’s brilliant, keen observations.

San Francisco Bay Press, 2018, $14.99
ISBN: 978-0996835039

 


Ash on the Wind

Author: Sandra Berris, Greenwich Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

Sandra Berris presents a collection of powerfully moving poems that are not for the faint of heart. Her unflinching, yet delicate, poetry confronts the human condition with carefully chosen language that drives her images straight to the reader’s soul.

The works are arranged in five sections. Section  I begins with an arresting poem titled “If Lights Dim.” Berris begins with the memory of President Kennedy’s assassination, a topic familiar to everyone who was older than toddlerhood in 1963. From this shared memory of shock and horror, she moves to a personal one, when a mass murderer was executed by electrocution and lights dimmed across the community from the enormous drain on the current. The poem becomes even more personal as the narration continues to the memory of a classmate’s family being murdered, and the resulting fear.

Calamity, death, and fear edge ever closer in this poem, which ends with the line, “What makes you remember?” We are off, our armor of distance stripped from us, vulnerable and ready to journey through the collection and feel the poet’s art as she means it to be felt.

The four ensuing sections hang together as separate units, yet all harmonize in the single volume. Several poems are prefaced with quotations from other literary works, providing the reader with clues to the resonance of ideas within the lines that follow.

Berris is also skilled in the placement of words on the page, as evidenced in “Mating Dance,” and in her use of enjambment in lines such as these from “Postcard from Harbour Island, Bahamas”:

       “a noisy farewell and unexpected hello

        from those traveling to town, and I

        imagine the clouds of mauve dust rising

        with each thrum of the engine as I watch.”

Leaving the pronoun at the end of the line gives it weight, as of a foot raised and ready to step forward, potential energy that translates as poetic energy. Berris maintains this energy throughout, ending with the brief, pregnant lines of “High Coo-Coo.” Poetry lovers will want this book in their collections.

2017, Muse Ink Press, $26
ISBN: 978-0-9859915-2-4

 



While…
Born during WWII. One era. Two lives.

Author: Margaret “Peg” Hanna, Central Ohio Branch

Reviewed by: Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch

The first paragraph of “While…” sets the tone for the rest of the book: “While Britain and allies bombed Germany to end Hitler’s intent to control Europe and Britain, Brunhilde Maria Maurer was born and raised in southern Germany.”

Hilde and Margaret’s lives are recounted in this interesting book of comparisons. Over a cup of coffee and a long period of time, they spun their tales. Peg was the American homemaker, Hilde her cleaning lady.

While coverWhile both women were born in the ‘40s and had fathers who served their countries—Margaret’s in the United States as an air raid warden and Hilde’s fighting for his country, Germany—the rest of their lives were as different as night and day.

Peggy was born into a middle class mid-Western family whose educated parents were lovingly devoted to her. They saw to it that her needs were met and opportunities were given. Although she was an only child, she did not lack for friends. In high school she had girlfriends (and, yes, sleepovers), caring teachers, and cousins galore. It was years later, after the birth of her six children, that Peggy and her husband found their marriage stressed and in havoc. Yet, her life held promise.

Hilde’s life did not.

When she was 3 years old, she witnessed a young boy on the ground writhing in pain after an exploded bomb had sprayed him. No one dared touch him, not even his screaming mother, because the silver substance was fatal. Hilde watched the burning agent spread throughout his body as his blackened flesh began to curl. The scene would forever haunt her.

Hilde was born into poverty. Her mother was an alcoholic with mental problems. Household chores fell onto Hilde’s shoulders, as did looking out for her younger brother. Her father did not return home after the war and when he did, he was verbally and physically abusive. No regular schooling, few friends, fewer enrichment opportunities.

Is it any wonder, then, that Hilde chose unstable young men as husbands? She bore four girls and tried her best to raise them in a safe and healthy environment, but the stain of poverty, fear, and heartache remained. She turned her pain and sorrow into an energy and determination that sustained her and the girls throughout her life, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

Both Peggy and Hilde were survivors. Their individual personalities, family life, and everyday struggles were not only a study in contrasts, but an educational tool for those interested in life during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.

2011, Author House, $14.95
ISBN: 978-1456715212


Elemental
Poems of Wind, Earth, and Fire

Author: Karen McAferty Morris, Pensacola Branch

Reviewed by: Claire Massey, Pensacola Branch

“Elemental,” Karen McAferty Morris’ chapbook, won second place in the 2017 Vinnie Ream Letters Competition. Pen Women continue to reap the benefits of her talents: She is the national poetry editor.

The collection is subtitled “Poems of Wind, Earth, and Fire,” and indeed, they are. She poignantly and memorably explores the changing seasons of earth, the winds that blow through our minds, and the fires that burn in our hearts.

Elemental coverIn this volume, Morris creates paths that beckon us to move through woods, water, and fields to arrive at tender places where we can remember our dead and acknowledge our losses. She gazes without flinching at the realities of aging, and we feel her dismay, her undisguised longing for what was and will not be again.

Her diversity and range are such that the poems celebrate winter’s destruction with the “rebel beauty” of the first harbingers of spring, evoke the eroticism of making love by the sea, spur us to action with her portraits of oppressed women in pain.

These poems are about seekers of beauty, poetry, freedom, legacies unexplored, and second chances. This is not a collection that will end up in a trunk or be left on a shelf in the book exchange. You will revisit these poems when you revisit your own sacred places, when you meditate and muse upon your own private mindscapes of earth, wind and fire.

2018, CreateSpace, $9
ISBN: 978-1985727724


The Private War of William Styron

Author: Mary Wakefield Buxton, Tidewater Branch
Reviewed by: Susanna-Judith Rae, Indianapolis Branch

“The Private War of William Styron” is Mary Wakefield Buxton’s 12th published book and first novel. Buxton knew novelist and essayist Styron (1925-2006) well — he was her cousin and writing mentor. 

The volume presents the future Nobel Prize winner’s views on writers’ challenges in general, as well as specifics of his agonizing struggles with his harsh, passive-aggressive stepmother, Elizabeth, whom his father married when “Billy” was 14 and still grieving his mother’s death. Elizabeth often shames young Styron: “Elbows off the table! … And look at the position of your fork! Hold it like this. …  You’re eating like an animal.” 

Styron, frequently lonely and despairing, quickly embraces the nickname “Sty,” as suggested by his friend, Tom. Sty’s favorite subject was English; he knew early in life that he would be a writer, not a doctor, or, at least, a lawyer or engineer, as Elizabeth insisted. Buxton summarizes the book’s thesis this way: “He … engaged in a fight for the survival of his very own soul.”

Buxton skillfully adds humor to this serious work.  When their headmaster drives Tom and Sty to Elizabeth and Sty’s father’s wedding, the author writes, “Sty looked like he was on his way to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, rather than traveling to a gala event. … He had visions of three ushers carrying him kicking and screaming to the front pew, and then tying him down.” 

Buxton adroitly weaves back and forth from Styron’s memories of his mother’s death and, 35 years later, of Elizabeth’s death. How ironic and disconcerting for Styron that the mother he loved dearly and the stepmother he hated intensely both died from cancer.

Perhaps Buxton’s greatest strengths are her use of imagery and finely tuned word usage, including “rambunctious,” “rapscallion,” and “a pair of tottering scribblers.” Undoubtedly readers never get enough of Buxton’s picturesque imagery: “…He liked to watch a storm form in the west and come tearing downriver, with an armada of black clouds and wind so strong, it turned the mirrored water into whitecaps in seconds and sent the pine trees leaning hard over, as if in prayer.” 

She employs these proficiencies throughout the book as readers ponder whether Sty will be able to be his own person in the midst of frequent disgust and condemnation from Elizabeth, as well as pressure at school, where a nonathletic student feels ashamed as classmates, teachers, and administrators repeatedly celebrate excellence in sports.

Long after finishing this intriguing book, readers will surely ponder Buxton’s insights about the trials and remarkable achievements of one of our nation’s beloved writers.

2014, Brandylane Publishers, $15
ISBN:  978-1939930019


Aspirations of the Heart

Author: Katie Hart Smith, Atlanta Chapter
Reviewed by: Barbara Clarke, Atlanta Branch

“Aspirations of the Heart,” Smith’s first novel in the Sacred Heart series, was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year in the First Novel category in 2017. The Sacred Heart series is historical fiction focusing on the emerging medical community in Atlanta in the early 1900s.

Aspirations of the Heart bookAddie Engel is a small-town girl who wants nothing more than to leave her family farm, venture out in the wider world of 1913 Georgia, and become a successful nurse. But the times aren’t so friendly to a young woman determined to buck society’s expectations and do more than marry, have children, and keep house. If society has its way, she will never leave Hope, Georgia, nor the boy who desires to be more than just her friend.

Tragedy strikes and with it comes an opportunity Addie can’t refuse. Thrust into the rapidly growing city of Atlanta, she’s soon immersed in a world of powerful people intent upon their own plans and schemes, including Lester Schwinn, a conniving man hell-bent on making his mysterious cure-all tonic a household name at any cost.

“Aspirations of the Heart” was placed in the Governor’s Mansion Library by Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Deal, who wrote, “I found it very engaging and informative. You wove a good story from absolute desperation to inspired achievement through the kindness and caring of the characters of good influence. Sinister evil struggled to undo the dreams and hopes of early Atlanta visionaries but good won out, which is always my hope. I enjoy historical fiction because I can learn factual material while enjoying the writer’s creative webbing and development of characters, settings and interactions toward an evasive or happy ending.”

“Aspirations of the Heart” is the passionate tale of Addie’s self-discovery, but also the city of Atlanta and the growing pains the 20th century brought. Filled with vivid and memorable characters, and replete with historically and socially accurate details, it is a panoramic novel ideal for lovers of Southern fiction and for anyone who enjoys a well-spun, exciting, colorful tale.

2016, Deeds Publishing, $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-944193-33-1


Entangled with a Sociopath

Author: Florence St. John, penname for Janet Sierzant, Vero Beach Branch
Reviewed by: Barbara Routen, Tampa Branch

In the #MeToo culture, in which women give voice to their abuse, Florence St. John’s book, “Entangled with a Sociopath,” is a must-read. She tells a painful truth: Narcissistic sociopaths, devoid of moral responsibility and conscience, dominate trusting, empathetic women by sweeping them off their feet. They keep women off balance via random verbal attacks, manipulation, moments of affection, and emotional withdrawal.

Entangled with a Sociopath bookSt. John’s story shares her own journey with a charming, domineering sociopath. At first, sexual intimacy is great, but then nonexistent. He crosses boundaries. He doesn’t let her eat. He guilts her into bankrolling grandiose schemes. If he repays her, it covers but a fraction of his debt. Sometimes he re-borrows the repayment the same day. If she refuses to cooperate, he threatens to leave her.

The author quotes psychotherapist Ross Rosenberg: “The selfish and controlling narcissist effortlessly leads the dance while the codependent intuitively and reflexively predicts and follows his moves. Clearly, one was ‘born’ to lead while the other to follow.”

From the start, such quotes and the unfolding story show the reader the trouble Florence is in, but she doesn’t see it. Family members warn her about the relationship, but she doesn’t listen. The suspense comes from not knowing if she can — or will —untangle herself.

St. John’s narrative is absorbing and sheds insight into how women get caught up with sociopaths and addicts and cannot walk away — and explains how some eventually do.

“The man I first met was an actor and I’m left with the true man behind the mask,” she writes. “My heart remembers the love I once felt for him and the plans we made for a glistening future. … Obsessed with the picture-perfect life, I pushed forward, grasping for hope and getting thin air. The hardest part of letting go is accepting that nothing had been real.”

“Entangled with a Sociopath” is a good book for adults, especially women, and anyone in an abusive situation. It is not a diagnostic tool or a self-help book — it is one woman’s story.

2012, revised 2016, La Maison Publishing Inc., $19.95
ISBN: 978-0982711415


In the Company of Women
An Anthology Commemorating the 90th Anniversary of the CNY Branch of the NLAPW

Authors: Central New York Branch Pen Women
Reviewed by: Patricia Setser, Jacksonville Branch

In the Company of Women bookThe title of this book is most appropriate. When you read “In the Company of Women,” you will feel as though you have met with and had the privilege of being personally acquainted with these writers and artists. This book should inspire other Pen Women branches to create their own anthologies.

The project was accomplished very successfully in this lovely, full-color, softbound book. As I read it from cover to cover, I felt connected to each of these Pen Women. I learned about their early history and how they are associated as writers and artists with their community.

Each chapter opened the door to new experiences, some painful and some hopeful. I felt the strength of the women as they met and faced what life brought to them.

As the pages were turned, I took the time to appreciate the beautiful and inspiring art. The poetry will educate and illuminate your minds. The depth of the thoughts will draw you into another time and space. You will see pictures in your own minds and feel linked to their stories.

Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this book.

Book available through Mary Gardner via email to mlgardner37@ yahoo.com $18 plus $2 for shipping and handling.


Sister of Saidnaya
A Syrian Immigrant’s Tale

Author: Rose Ann Kalister, Central Ohio Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

Twelve-year-old Nadra wishes with all her heart to accompany her parents to America, the place her father describes as “that rich, beautiful land where everything is possible.” When her wish is granted, she can hardly believe her good fortune. Her two older sisters are left behind in the village of Saidnaya, Syria, while Nadra, her parents, and her younger siblings journey to their new home. They settle in a community of Christian Syrians in Hedley, West Virginia, and open a confectionery shop. Nadra’s hopes of education and opportunity are dashed as she realizes that her role in the new country is to care for the younger children and help her parents with cooking, cleaning, and minding the store. Nadra is a gifted cook, and the descriptions of Syrian foods and cooking are rich and sensual. At the tender age of 16, Nadra is forced to marry the man her parents have chosen for her and become a wife and soon, a mother.

“Sister of Saidnaya” is the story of an immigrant woman caught between the expectations of the old country and the possibilities of a new one. The years pass. Nadra’s younger siblings and her children find their places among the “Amerikan,” while Nadra faces challenge after challenge, responsibility upon responsibility, but she never gives up her dream of pursuing her own happiness.

This book is a love story as well. John, Nadra’s husband, is a good man. Older than Nadra by several years, he adores his wife, even as she challenges him. Their relationship is strained by family, economic depression, war, and burdens from the past. Nadra wonders if their marriage can survive.

The author, Rose Ann Kalister, is a friend and colleague of mine. Over the past several years, I have listened as she read portions of her work and watched as she meticulously conducted research and included accurate details of early 20th-century Hedley, West Virginia. I expected the book to be good, but my expectations have been exceeded. “Sister of Saidnaya” is authentic, touching, thoughtful, humorous, and eloquent. It is the story of an immigrant’s struggle to participate in the offerings of a land of opportunity. In our nation of immigrants, it is a story that speaks to us all.

2017, Boyle & Dalton, $14.95
ISBN: 9781633371811


Life After Darkness

Author: Cathy Wield, Denver Branch, CO
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch (with input from Virginia Campbell, NLAPW president, Pikes Peak Branch)

Life After Darkness book cover“Light After Darkness” shares the enormously powerful journey of Cathy Wield, a woman struggling with severe clinical depression. Wield, a wife and the mother of four children, was working as a physician in a hospital in England when depression first invaded her life. What followed would be seven years of self-injury that included burning herself, head banging, and cutting — always with the goal of ending her misery. She was hospitalized frequently and for months at a time, with home visits made possible at times when she appeared more stable.

Cathy Wield shares her remarkable story of triumph over depression via narrative and diary entries. Also included are writings from her doctors and her husband, verifying Wield’s story. Her husband’s “In Sickness and in Health” explains how he thinks he and the children survived.

After years of therapy and many, many medications, all seemed hopeless. Even the medical professionals were considering giving up hope of recovery. Then, after seven years, a specialized neurosurgery was performed on Wield’s brain; the result was a miracle.

This incredible story of struggle, pain, and anguish addresses the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the humiliation of being a doctor who is ill. Because of this book, changes to mental health care began happening in England. Due to its content, Wield’s book is often a difficult read. But know this: “Light After Darkness” is a very worthwhile book telling an amazing story.

2006, Radcliffe Publishing Ltd, $28.95
ISBN: 978-1-85775-729-3


Dear Myra, Dear Max
A Conversation About Aging

Authors: Myra F. Levick, Boca Raton Branch, and Maxine Borowsky Junge
Reviewed by: Louise Mirkin, Boca Raton Branch, FL

Dear Myra Dear Max cover“Dear Myra, Dear Max: A Conversation about Aging” is a thoughtful and thought-provoking, first-of-its-kind book. Neither a textbook nor a handbook, it is an exchange of emails between two women (ages 93 and 80) describing their experiences and expressing their thoughts and opinions on the concerns and challenges they confronted in the process of aging. Their observations and insights contradict and disprove many myths and assumptions widely believed about the aging population.

Representing the first generation of seniors living into their 80s and 90s, whom they call “social pioneers trekking along a path with few landmarks or touchstones to guide the way,” they are making their own decisions, actively living their lives as they wish.

The book would be useful not only to seniors as they age, but to their families and friends, to psychologists and other therapists who work with older adults, to administrators and professional staff in independent and assisted living facilities, and to those contemplating their own futures after traditional retirement age. I strongly recommend this very readable and highly enlightening book!

2017, CreateSpace, $20
ISBN #978-1974444427


Just Two Girls

Author: Rachael Ikins, Central New York Branch
Reviewed by: Treanor Baring, Bayou City II Branch, TX

Just Two Girls coverHow do you read poetry? In the author’s or editor’s order, treating the body of work as a whole? Or do you open the book at random, letting serendipity guide you? I ask because I recommend that before you read Rachael Ikins’ latest collection of poems, “Just Two Girls,” you throw away your usual playbook of expectations.

This book is its own special journey. Whether you take a linear path or fling about in Brownian motion across Ikins’ poetic universe, be prepared for burned dinners, unanswered texts, and unseen sunsets. Once you have started, you won’t put it down. I also recommend you shelve it at eye level so you can pull it out often to enjoy Ikins’ lyric breath of life over and over.

The title of the first poem, “Pondering Life, I Lean Toward Rhyme,” sums up Ikins’ voice in this collection precisely. The life pondered in this particular poem is a deer fly, its sting and the seeming futility of an insect’s life. Deceptively naturalistic. Until the poem’s final stanza zooms out to the author’s own mortality, and asks, “Who will consider my wing’s beat, their sacred patterns, my quirks? Will the itch linger?”

Throughout the collection, life is pondered with the same wonderment. Ikins searches for meaning and finds it, not only in her signature visual images, but in the simplicity (and therefore complexity) of everyday experiences. Her poems pull no punches. You will find no artifice or sugar coating here. You will find “[e]ndurance, resilience, toughness, patience,” as in her description of an elder Scrabble shark.

Unforgettable characters populate these poems, from the “Scrabble Maven” and “Pioneer Woman,” to an irascible rooster or a blinking tree toad. Ikins draws beauty as well as hard truths from unexpected places: a deer fly, a chipped tooth, or an old truck. Grounded, but not earth-bound, her images bring “joy, like helium” to raise us “to wakefulness.” Beware, her vision of the aesthetic splendor in ordinary things is addictive. You have been forewarned: Turn off the stove before you embark.

2017, Clare Songbirds Publishing House, $16
ISBN: 978-1-947653-05-4


The Swift Seasons

Author: Mollee Kruger, Bethesda Branch
Reviewed by: Brenda Layman, Central Ohio Branch

“Real life people keep too much frozen inside themselves,” muses Willa Warsaw, a recently widowed, 80-something resident in an assisted living facility for aging Jewish folks. The place is known only by the expressionless name, SVM. Willa, the central character in Mollee Kruger’s novel, suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, an affliction that makes it difficult for her to speak. Inside Willa, however, is a poet who spends her time reading the works of Oliver Wendell Holmes and writing eloquent, insightful journal entries that record her journey through mourning to her entry into a new phase of life.

Other characters abound, so many that it is difficult at first for the reader to recognize them all when they appear, but soon each of them emerges as a distinct personality. These characters are drawn with broad strokes that, at first, present them as mere types. However, as the story progresses, glimpses of these characters as they once were and still are within themselves emerge, and Kruger’s tale deepens.

When a new man arrives at SVM, widowed, childless Willa, ever a romantic, falls in love.  Parkinson’s Disease renders him increasingly frail, imprisoning him in a body that is less and less able to function. Willa, however, sees with her heart, and they connect immediately. She imagines a glorious romance that might have been, and wonders if that is enough to build a strong relationship between them. Reality forces her to consider whether there simply is not enough time left for them to make a life together.

Kruger’s well-written story is gloriously tender in its depiction of aging and loss. One by one and bit by bit, the characters relinquish their strength, their car keys, and control of their lives, but they never relinquish their dreams. Those who read “The Swift Seasons” will, ever after, see more than anonymous old age in the faces of the elderly.

2016, Maryben Books, $10.95
ISBN: 978-0991228904


Simply Sanibel Poems

Author: Lorraine Walker Williams,
Reviewed by: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch

Lorraine Walker William’s book, “Simply Sanibel Poems,” captures the poet’s call to nature and evokes the sense of place — Sanibel, Florida. The poems respect the distances between nature in the wild and civilized man, the observer, often with photographic equipment. The mechanics of that equipment paradoxically distances him from the object observed though bringing it closer in view. The poet, and I paraphrase her words, gathers “from bud,” folds close, and holds tight. In so doing, the poet enjoins the natural world and is of it and a part of its essence.

In the poem “Osprey,” about a fish-eating hawk whose plume was once used to trim women’s hats, she pictures the bird with a “jeweled eye.” The image is evocative. Is Williams imagining a red ruby glittering dear and enigmatic? She fancies the movement “of his black-tipped wings” as she catches him in the lens of her camera and then moves to a poetic frame of reference. Her sense of a double view is remarkable.

“The Alligator” is jagged, rhymed, playful, and catchy:     “Behold the alligator,
teeth and jaw,
bellow and maw.”

In “Asbury Park,” Williams shows a poignant empathy in her tribute to a willful, misguided Jersey girl who has lost her way:
“O boardwalk baby, you bring out the mama
in me, pushing my first born in a stroller,
his eyes wide as fireworks flare. No one
knew they were close to your last hurrah.”

Lorraine Walker Williams undoubtedly has talent. Her poems demonstrate a skillful use of language and meaningful observations of the natural world and the inhabitants in it. The reader will appreciate these virtues.

2016, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $14
ISBN 978- 1539496113

Call for Book Reviewers

The Pen Woman magazine is seeking avid readers to review new books published by members. If you are interested, please contact the Book Review Editor, Kelly Ann Compton, email: bookreviews@nlapw.org.

Book Review Submissions Guidelines

New books by members will be considered for book reviews and listing in the Pen Woman. Send your book book along with full author contact information, branch or member-at-large status, a short description of the book, ISBN number and website URL.

Books will only be considered for review if NLAPW branch affiliation or member-at-large status is included in the submission. For inquiries, email: bookreviews@nlapw.org.

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