Friday, September 20, 2019
If you've read or listened to EDUCATED or NICKELED AND DIMED or NOMADLAND and pulled for the tenacity of those underdogs wanting a better life, you will want to read Stephanie Land's memoir. Her parents' divorce darkened her early adult years, pushing aside her desire to attend college. By the time she was 28, she determined that the dead end jobs she had weren't enough, and she made plans to leave Washington state and attend the University of Montana for a degree in writing. Those plans disintegrated when she discovered she was pregnant. Refusing to get the abortion that her boyfriend wanted, she found their relationship quickly sink into bitterness and emotional abuse. Soon she and the baby had no choice but to seek refuge in a homeless shelter. Even while there, Stephanie was employed -- working for a cleaning company. And it is that life of living from paycheck to the next paycheck with government programs being the only safety net that helped keep food on the table and medicine available when Mia needed it. that she writes about in her memoir MAID.
I listened to Stephanie's compelling first person narrative on CD. At times it was almost too gut wrenching to continue. Inadequate housing that contributed to her toddler's constant sinus infections, government programs full of red tape, long days trying to balance enough hours of paid work with the hours of unpaid time traveling from one job to another, arguments with Mia's father over custody, and her lack of family support numbed the young mother into a near hopeless state. But always in the back was her dream to attend college and write. Her way of life gives new meaning to the word minimalist. Yet somehow she managed to scrape together both money and loans for tuition for online courses for an associates degree, and continue her dream of one day moving to Montana. The memoir pulls back the curtains on how people treat their paid domestic employees. While most ignored the young woman who spend hours cleaning their dirt several times a month, some were dismissive and harsh. Only a few saw the real woman whose life was a daily struggle. Likewise, Stephanie learned to see the emotional emptiness, pain, and illness that some clients were facing. One of my favorite parts of the book was her description of a snow storm that kept Mia and herself home for several days. An acquaintance called to say that he would leave a sled on his porch and she could get it for Mia. That meant a mile walk in deep snow, but they bundled up and took the trek, Stephanie carrying Mia most of the way. But on the way back, she could pull the little girl on the sled and they took in the beauty of the storm. Back in their tiny studio apartment (which she constantly had to clean of mold) they had to wear their coats to avoid turning up the thermostat, but they made an adventure of extra time together. Mia never realized that each hour of those snowbound days pushed them ever closer to empty cupboards or even homelessness -- a mother with no savings cannot afford days with no wages.
Today Stephanie is a freelance writer whose articles support social justice issues. Her website is
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Christian historical fiction writer Liz Tolsma has joined the group of authors writing TRUE COLORS, Historical stories of American Crime, with her title THE PINK BONNET. Based on the actions of the strange, cruel actions of Georgia Tann, the director of the Memphis Tennessee Children's Home. Modern investigations and opened records show that Georgia Tann, Judge Camille Kelley and E. H. (Boss) Crump conspired together to kidnap over five thousand children, many destined to be basically sold to the highest bidder. We now know that celebrities and even politicians adopted children from her between 1924 and 1950. Tann died amid a 1950 investigation and no one was ever held accountable for her crooked dealings. It is said that the 1930's was a frightening time for parents in Memphis. As the Depression deepened, many, especially single mothers, were hoodwinked into signing adoption papers when giving birth at certain hospitals. Those already dealing with unemployment and lost homes had their families fractured as children were snatched as they walked home from school or played on the streets. In her novel, Tolsma superbly handles both sides of the dilemmas caused by Tann's actions. Cecile Dowd, a struggling single mother, finds parenting her impulsive three year old Millie a challenge. Knowing that she must find full time employment, rather than her part time teaching job, Cecile leaves Millie with a neighbor for a few hours while job hunting. When she returns, she finds that the elderly woman, who believes she has done something commendable, has turned the little girl over to the children's home. That scenario sets the reader up for a fast paced, emotional battle between Cecile and Georgia Tann. In the book, Tann's lawyer, Percy Vance, is young and sympathetic to Cecile's plight, while in real life, Tann's lawyer was as crooked and ruthless as she. On the other side of any adoption story is the receiving end --- the new parents and the new family created when an adoptive child arrives. Tolsma, herself a parent to three adopted children, excels in her portrayal of this side. In the book, we see two extremes. R. D. Griggs and his wife fall instantly in love with the brown-haired, green-eyed girl they call Pearl and indulge her every wish. When the lawyer Percy Vance asks for his help looking through recent court adoption records, R. D. is caught between knowing that Cecile deserves to be helped and fear that he could lose his own daughter. At the other end of the spectrum are Willard and Gladys who have also recently adopted what they believe is a five year girl. Gladys calls the girl Fanny and grows to care for her, but cannot protect her from the long hours of tedious, strenuous work that Willard expects from the tyke. Nor can Gladys protect Fanny from the man's explosive temper. For the thousands of children adopted through the Tennessee Home, most probably found life somewhere on the middle of this spectrum. Whatever their lives came to be, what is most poignant is that many of these children had loving homes and parents who were sacrificing each and every day and whose major sin was that they were poor and broken. Readers expect happy endings for most of our readings; THE PINK BONNET will have you rushing to the end to see where Millie really is --- hidden at the orphange? settling into the Griggs' home and forgetting her own mother? Working dusk to dawn in a place almost completely devoid of love and affection?
I received a copy of this title from Barbour Books. All opinions are mine.
Saturday, September 7, 2019
The second book in the Chloe Ellefson series is set again at Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, Wi, a few months later after the original novel. Chloe is barely settling into her job when she learns that her old boyfriend (the one who dumped her) has arrived from Switzerland and wants to try their relationship again. Meanwhile Roelke responds to a suicide call, but arrives too late. Something about the body's location is unsettling and Roelke digs into the woman's past -- her family and her marriage. When he learns that her sister, who is a friend of Chloe's, worked at Old World Wisconsin and that strange things have been happening at the surviving sister's home. Seems like Chloe and Roelke's paths will cross again as more mysterious events happen. This whole mystery series is set in the 1980's and little details like clothes, songs and car models bring back memories. Chloe drives a beat up Pinto and I can easily imagine its rusty shape. We had a brand new Pinto in 1974 or so, and so did our friend. The door on his rusted within a year, and ours was not much better. With a 1980's setting, that means Chloe and Roelke have no cell phones, internet, surveillance cameras, gps, nor other technology to help them.
As always there is a story from the past built into Ernst's mystery; this time is the discovery and disappearance of a yellow diamond in rural Palmyra/Eagle in the late 1800's. As I read the book, I imagined that Ernst fabricated this discovery for a plot device, but later learned that such a diamond was found in Eagle in 1876 and like in the book was stolen from the American Museum of Natural History in 1964. A quick internet search shows that a 16 carat clear diamond would be worth between 2 and 3 million today, probably making the yellow diamond worth even more. The wife of the original discoverer sold the diamond after her husband's death for $1. My father's paternal side of his family settled in that Eagle area in the late 1800's. They may have been there when this stone was discovered. Could they have actually known about, seen, or touched this stone? Just thinking about that makes this book even more intriguing.
Kathleen Ernst's latest book, the tenth in the series, FIDDLING WITH FATE just released. I was lucky to receive a pre-release copy from the author and have been putting off reading it, hoping that I could read the rest of the series first. Right now I have read 4 of the previous 9 books, and think I will probably jump ahead and then catch up with the books I missed. After listening to a Wisconsin Public Radio interview with the author and after following her blog/Facebook postings while she was working on FIDDLING WITH FATE, I am too curious to wait any longer.
Monday, September 2, 2019
July's pick for the READ WITH JENNA's bookclub was a fast, entertaining tale. Evvie had finally made the decision to leave her doctor husband when she got a phone call. Months later, she is still trying to adjust to her new title - widow. She knows she must move on with her life, but finds herself immobile, hiding in her large home. While the townspeople and even her best friend Andrew and her father believe grief fills her hours she knows it is fear that others will learn the truth. Then, Andrew talks her into renting the tiny apartment at the back of her house to a former major league pitcher who is facing his own personal crisis. Is it possible that she can share her truth with a stranger? Author Holmes tells this tale with a touch that is neither too heavy nor too light. That Evvie's best friend is a divorced dad is a twist. That he has leaned heavily on Evvie in the past, but really never saw the pain she was experiencing in her own marriage adds to the complexity of the story. That a wounded Evvie would immediately begin trying to help her new tenant Dean takes everyone to new territory.
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Called the Marsh Girl and shunned by the townspeople, Kya has survived alone in the North Carolina marsh after being abandoned by those who should have loved and nutured her. When the former golden boy of the town is found dead at the bottom of a fire tower, rumors emerge taht he and Kya often met in the swamp, even after marriage. Could she be guilty of causing his fall through an open section of the tower's walkway? WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING was one of Reese Witherspoon's bookclub picks and I can totally see why. It offers an unexpected mystery, a sensitive coming of age story, and a shocking ending. But it is the beauty of the marsh lands and Kya's ability to find meaning to life through nature's dichotomy of beauty and survival that will drew me into the story. Delia Owens has co-written several wildlife nonfiction books with her husband detailing their lives as wildlife scientists. That expertise on nature and a profound love for the subject surfaces on every page of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. I hope she continues to pair her understanding of our connection to the natural world with fascinating fictional characters and plots that take us into the unknown.
Monday, August 12, 2019
On May 15, 2010, Carlos and Rosemarie's marriage changed forever when Carlos, a U.S. Marine squad leader on his fourth deployment (3 Iraq, 1 Afghanistan) stepped on an IED. Following days in Germany to save his life, Carlos is transferred back to the states and Rosemarie, who had been visiting her in-laws in Puerto Rico, joins him. Together the young couple, childhood friends who'd grown in love for each other and for God, must face that Carlos was now a triple amputee.
Days of pain, hallucinations and depression follow. Rosemarie agonizes over her separation from their two young daughters, but knows her place is with Carlos. Carlos feels helpless when Rosemarie takes on all the family responsibilities. Even as Carlos begins to heal and adjusts to prosthesis, Rosemarie, a nurse herself, recognizes his growing dependence on pain meds. In the long days, that turn into months of healing, therapy, gains and set backs, the couple rediscovers God's love and peace and a new purpose for their lives.
If you pick up this powerful read, you'll learn about programs like Operation Homefront, the nonprofit which provided the couple with an apartment during his two years of therapy; Disabled Sports USA, who taught Carlos to ski; and Operation Coming Home, who built a home to meet Carlos's needs. You'll see God's hand at work through the actions of family, pastors, and nurses. For example, Carlos's head nurse at Bethseda was also a pastor and ALSO had come from the same Puerto Rican village as the couple. His care went way beyond dispensing pills and monitoring wounds. Then there was the thoughtful, loving way nurse Lorraine taught Carlos's 4 year old daughter to help "heal" her Papi's wounds so he would get better. As little Nairoby works to change his dressings, Carlos realizes that his family had accepted his new body and that he should never "be embarrassed or apologize for [his] legless body again.
Since his injury, Carlos Evans has become a minister with the Assemblies of God USA, a Wounded Warrior spokesman, and a motivational speaker. I highly recommend this powerful story of courage and love. I received a copy from the publisher and Audra Reads. All opinions are mine.
If you are interested in entering a giveaway for this book, check Audra's site
If you would like to hear Carlos speak, check this Youtube video.
Saturday, August 10, 2019
I first became a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini for her easy reading quilt-based fiction series, so naturally when she moved to write historical fiction with MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER, I had to read it. Although I loved the topic of Mary Todd Lincoln and her black dressmaker Elizabeth Hobbs, I was a bit disappointed in the writing. I've read a lot of biographical/historical nonfiction and felt Chiaverini was really writing in that style, but labeling it fiction. Basically I am saying that the story did not quite flow, but stalled with oodles and oodles of facts. Our book club had that same feeling. But I've continued to read Chiaverini's historical fiction because I am intrigued by the topics she chooses. (I confess I have missed a couple books and will remedy that soon.) So when I saw RESISTENCE WOMEN, I was intrigued but put the book down on my to-read pile a bit since I've read a lot of WWII fiction in recent years. Then reading friends said they were reading the book and finding it eye-opeining, so I put it near the top of my pile. At nearly 600 pages, I knew it would be a commitment of time, and that's hard in summer. But it was a fascinating and educational read. The Wisconsin ties made the book all the more compelling. Mildred Fish Harnark grew up in Wisconsin and studied American Literature at the UW-Madison in the 1920's where she met her husband, a German, who came to Madison to pursue a doctoral degree in economics. Both Mildred and Arvid became friends with Greta Lorke, another UW student from Germany. By the end of the twenties, all three are back in Germany and as Adolph Hitler begins to gain power, they are alarmed, as are their extended group of friends. Flash forward to 1942, and all three will be among a group labeled Rote Kapelle who are arrested as traitors. You will need to read the book to see what led these three intellectuals to this fate. You will also meet Martha Dodd, the daughter of the US Ambassador to Germany during the 1930's and learn her reaction to the volatile changes within the country. Because this book is considered historical fiction, Chiaverini has taken her carefully researched facts about the three women and interwoven their stories with a fictional character Rose, a young Jewish woman who stands in for a compilation of the many young Jewish women that Mildred had as students or that Greta knew from the theater. No matter what you already know about Hitler's rise to power and what the Jewish people suffered, you will learn more disturbing information in the pages of this novel. And you will be astonished at the ways these women worked, trying to get the world to pay attention to what was happening in Berlin and beyond. At a time when the official German view was that women should be concentrating on husband, home and children, they were willing to sacrifice all because they DID love their families and home. I highly recommend this novel.