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31 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

 

Book reviewed by Bev Scott

The Sympathizer Book Review by Bev ScottThe Sympathizer tells the first-person story of a communist spy embedded in South Vietnam during the “American War.” He serves as a loyal aide to “the General” of the South Vietnamese army at the same time he shares information with his communist handlers loyal to North Vietnam. He evacuates with the General when the U.S. pulls out of South Vietnam and ends up in California as an immigrant. Continuing his close connection to the General as well as his relationship with his handlers, he ultimately returns to Vietnam in a futile attempt to infiltrate North Vietnam and is captured and held prisoner. Held in isolation for a year, he is required by the “faceless” Commandant to write his confession before he is freed. This confession is the first-person story of the book.

I began reading this book as part of my preparation to travel to Vietnam last December. The author, Viet Thanh Nguyen has won a Pulitzer Prize and several other prizes for this book, but I found it very hard to read. The focus switches from description to dialogue, from one location to another, from one character to another without punctuation or explanation. Despite the gripping, wry and historical nature of the story, and what many consider brilliant writing, I had to force myself to continue to read it.

I did finally finish it and valued the Vietnamese perspective it provided. I gradually adjusted to the writing style. I agree that it skillfully draws the reader into the mysteries of Vietnam’s political intrigue. I also appreciated learning more about the impact of selfless commitment and passion to a political cause. The book raises evocative questions regarding the interplay of morality, power and a strong belief in a greater cause while also revealing multiple views on the subject. I am glad I read it.

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16 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “Clancy’s Song” by Ken Hultman and Natalie Hultman

Clancy's Song, book reviewed by Bev Scott

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a delightful parable which takes place on the Freedom Cattle Ranch. The soil is fertile and the all-grass diet, supplemented by hay when necessary, supports an organic or natural experimental operation. The story stars four Herefords, Clancy, Beamer, Tank and Gordo, all born on the Day of Light. They were each born into different sects on the ranch which are carefully monitored to keep the hereditary line for each sect pure. The requirements necessary to maintain purity provide the context for the message of the parable.

All the cattle are kept in their assigned territory with their sect; they are not allowed outside the electrical fence, in the frightful territory of “Despairia” where other animals live who kill each other; and they cannot get within 100 feet of the entrance to Bovina. The two-legged creatures or guardian angels select certain cows to go to Bovina, which is the beautiful life beyond the physical existence on the ranch, to live with Father Taurus forever. It is considered quite an honor to be selected to go to Bovina.

New calves must learn and follow the Ten Hereford Laws, attend services to pray to Father Taurus and learn from the bull who is their father and leader of their sect what is the expected and rewarded behavior. Clancy belongs to the “Faithites” who are expected to totally trust Father Taurus; Beamer is a “Lovite,” expected to be pleasant and loving; Tank is a “Holyite” who must participate in the rituals; and Gordo is a “Servite,” dedicated to a life of good deeds.

The story follows each calf as he learns his lessons, tries to meet the expectations of his sect and in turn becomes disillusioned and cautiously challenges the rules. When the four Herefords find each other, they become fast friends alarming the herd leadership. As they explore the ranch, pursue adventures and encounter a bull who has been ex-communicated, they gain insights about the limitations of the rules, the sect expectations and even the reality of Bovina.

The message of Clancy’s Song is in the cattle ranch metaphor which transparently describes what many of us abhor in our own human “ranch:” today’s political divisiveness and ethnic and racial slurs. We are reminded to ask questions, be open, learn all we can, avoid rigidity and judgement, hold others with love and respect and have fun! Good reminders of what I would like to do on my own “ranch.”

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28 Dec
2017
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Book Review: “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

 

The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TutuThis book records a delightful conversation between two spiritual masters of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, facilitated by Douglas Abrams. This conversation celebrated their special birthdays and is offered as a birthday gift to others with an invitation for more joy and more happiness.

Many awful things have happened to the Dalai Lama…exiled from his home and from what is precious to him…yet people experience a compassion, joy and a mischievousness when they speak with him. He offers another angle to look at his exile as giving him new opportunities. He shares a Tibetan saying ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak with a concern for humanity as a whole. They want to ensure that they include the over one billion people on the planet who are non-believers. Everyone has a right to become happier human beings and to be good members of the human family. That does not depend on religious faith to educate our inner values.

Their lives model the way. Yet, the Archbishop has never claimed sainthood and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. Their hope in humanity is inspirational as they refuse to choose the cynicism and despair that threatens to overcome us all. The joy the two of them express does not come from living easy and comfortable lives but rather from facing adversity, oppression and struggle. They argue that lasting happiness is not found in the pursuit of any goal or special achievement or in fortune or fame but only in the human mind and heart. They hope that readers of this inspiring book will find it.The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Archbishop said that “Joy is bigger than happiness” since happiness is often seen as dependent on external circumstances, joy comes from a state of mind and is rooted in the purpose of life. The Dalai Lama said that one of the great questions underlying our existence is “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness…The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status…Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves.” If we create most of our suffering, it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives and the reactions we bring to situations and relationships.

Suffering, even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion. It is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. Even in pain we can find some positive experiences, some opportunities and some blessings. “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”  They both say that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Being joyful is about being more empathetic, more compassionate and more engaged with the world.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

With this foundation for happiness and joy, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop discuss with insight and from experience how to heal and turn away from the obstacles to joy such as fear, stress, anger, grief, despair, envy and suffering. Then they offer a path to happiness through the Eight Pillars of Joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. The message of this lovely book is that it is a cycle: the more we heal our own suffering and obstacles, the more we can turn to others to help their pain and suffering and, amazingly, the more we turn away from our own selfish issues toward the concerns of others, the more we can transcend our own suffering. This is the true secret of joy.

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12 Oct
2017
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Book Review: “The Underground River” by Martha Conway

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The Underground River by Martha ConwayMae Bedloe is the seamstress and all-around support for her more famous cousin Comfort Vertue. In 1838 they are in search of new opportunities in the theatre for Comfort who has booked them on the steamboat Moselle headed to St. Louis. After six days on board the Moselle, it sinks on the Ohio River.

While Comfort is hired to give lectures for an abolitionist, Mae ultimately finds work with a struggling acting troupe that performs on a floating theatre. Mae makes a place for herself with the troupe helping with costumes, ticket sales and other support tasks. As she takes on more assignments, and finds acceptance from members of the troupe, her confidence grows. I enjoyed the character development as Mae moves from a quiet and reserved subordinated cousin to an independent competent young woman taking risks to ferry slave babies to freedom.

The story is engrossing and a “page turner.” What a surprise when Mae boldly steps on stage putting the acting troupe in danger in order to take morally correct but illegal action. I found myself cheering Mae for her boldness and moral commitment at the same time I worried about her survival. The author, Martha Conway provides a well-researched historical context of another divisive time in our history which foreshadows the bitterly fought Civil War a few decades later.

I highly recommend this book.

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17 Aug
2017
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Book Review: “No One Helped: Kitty Genovese, New York City and the Myth of Urban Apathy” By Marcia M. Gallo

 

Book Reviewed by Beverly Scott

"No One Helped" by Marcia Gallo, book reviewSome of us remember and many of us have heard the story of Kitty Genovese’s rape and murder in New York in 1964. I remember as a young woman hearing about her murder and being terrified to go to New York City. I also believed that New Yorkers were an uncaring bunch. Most of what we have heard is wrong.

Based on thorough and detailed research, Marcia Gallo examines the accounts of Kitty Genovese’s tragic death beginning with the early reports the New York Times and other papers. Gallo shines a light on how the details of her attack, her lesbian relationship and the actual response of her neighbors were either ignored or inaccurately reported. She demonstrates how the emphasis of the Times, and especially editor A.M. Rosenthal’s personal interpretation of inaccurate facts of the case, has created and perpetuated the myth of the moral apathy of her neighbors. His version of the events has lived on for decades.

Gallo presents a clear and accessible historical narrative which includes: the public reporting, the residents of the neighborhood of Kew Gardens in Queens where the murder took place, the emerging lesbian and gay community, the issues with reporting a crime during that time, Kitty Genovese’s family and lover, and the many other influences which have often been ignored. This is historical narrative that does not have the emotional drama of crime fiction. It is a well written and detailed analysis of a significant historical and cultural event. As described on the back cover, “No One Helped traces the Genovese story’s development and resilience while challenging the myth it created.”

Book at Amazon

More about Marcia Gallo (LinkedIn)

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9 Aug
2017
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Book Review: “Rosette: A Novel of Pioneer Michigan” by Cindy Rinaman Marsch

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review, Historical Fiction, Rosette by Cindy Rinaman MarschThe book opens in 1888 with Rosette’s reflection on her decision to leave her marriage two years earlier, abandon her children who are mostly grown and take the train from Michigan to Dakota Territory to live with her oldest son. This reflection written by the author, emerges from the fragment of a journal entry where Rosette has crossed out her description of her wedding day and inserts “Unholy and Unhappy bonds of marriage” and describes her feelings as “sincerely DETEST and ABHOR.”

Marsch then takes us back to an earlier life, introducing the journal of Rosette Cordelia Ramsdell in September 1856. Rosette is an amazingly literate woman, school teacher and accomplished seamstress living in rural Michigan. The story follows Rosette through the courtship, marriage and births of her children and introduces us to members of her family. Marsch uses the brief excerpts from Rosette’s journal to provide authenticity to the story.

Marsch presents a story consistent with the journal, which she found and translated, and continues much of the language from it, inventing facts in the story only when necessary. Confessing that she is “fascinated by books that reveal whole persons by unearthing and sometimes embellishing the primary source materials,” she has offered a gift to the memory of Rosette and her family. Other than the journal, she found only scraps of information. Rosette and her husband Otis have disappeared into history.

Although I wished for a little more mystery and drama as I read the story, I admire what Marsch has accomplished and followed the story to the end. Rosette gives us an authentic picture of rural life in Michigan in the last half of the 1800’s. That makes it fascinating for those of us interested in history. Book Website

 

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26 Jul
2017
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Book Review: “A Crooked Smile” by Terri Tate

Book Review: "A Crooked Smile" by Terri Tate

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Terri Tate’s memoir is powerful, touching and intimate. She takes the reader through the excruciatingly painful journey of cancer discovered under her tongue. She shares her fears, her longing, her love and her gradual acceptance of who she has become.  Anne Lamont says in the foreword that she “has paid through the nose to stay alive.” She also paid with losing part of her jaw, her tongue and re-arranging her face. She takes us into the depths of her despair, her childish dependence on her husband and her search for faith and belief in a Greater Power as well as in herself.

Terri is an excellent writer. I felt as if I was right next to her as she struggled for her survival. She tells a story that is honest and revealing. Terri shows up as a whole, loving, spiritual human being by the end of her story. And, speaking of the end, I thought it ended a little too quickly. Suddenly she was healthy, single and a successful. Despite that minor issue, “A Crooked Smile” is a  beautiful, intimate story of survival and triumph.

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6 Jul
2017
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Book Review: “Nicola’s Leg” by Natacha Pavlov

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review by Bev Scott AuthorThis book is the true life story of Nicola, told from the perspective of his leg. Nicola is taken when his parents flee the Russian Revolution to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Although his father, Nikita, is captured and presumed shot during their flight, his mother, Natacha continues and ultimately finds refuge at the Russian Orthodox Convent on the famous Mount of Olives. The story follows when Nicola as an adolescent he is encouraged by Natacha to go visit relatives in Eastern Europe; during his military service in Egypt in World War II; to his marriage to Maura and his role as a father to five children. He is imprisoned and tortured during Israel’s Six-Day War. His injuries result in the loss of his legs. It is this tragic loss that is the basis for the unusual title, “Nicola’s Leg.”

The author, Natacha Pavlov, writes a very engaging story about Nicola who is her grandfather. She uses the omnipotent voice to describe the travails and joys of Nicola’s life including his deep religious faith. The omnipotent voice is not as popular a style today as it was in the past and thus is unusual. It took me a few chapters to get used to it. However, Pavlov uses it well and draws the reader into Nicola’s story. I also enjoyed learning from a more personal level the impact of events in the first half of the twentieth century.

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9 Feb
2017
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Book Review: “Colorado Dream” (The Front Range Series) by Charlene Whitman

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Colorado Dream by Charlene Whitman, book reviewed by Bev ScottMy first book by Charlene Whitman kept me engaged through most of the story to the happy ending.  The writing is excellent and the story line is unique, a young Italian girl comes from New York to commission a violin from an exceptional violin maker in Greeley, Colorado in 1877.  Of course, Angela meets a handsome cowboy, Brett.  Although she is drawn to him she rejects him as uncouth, uncultured and dangerous.  Brett falls hard for her but believes she is too sophisticated and cultured to care for a cowboy.  He is sure she rejects him and will return with her new violin to New York.  A sweet romantic story, but I found the constant description of the physical and emotional attraction between the protagonists as way over-done.  Consequently, I lost interest toward the end.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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20 Dec
2016
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Book Review: “Role Montage: A Creative New Way to Discover the Leader Within You” by Jan Schmuckler

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Role Montage by Jan Schmuckler, Reviewed by Bev ScottLearning how to be a leader is a challenge for newly appointed managers or supervisors and finding a mentor to help is often not possible. Jan Schmuckler has provided us with a clear and helpful process to find our own leadership style within ourselves. How I wish I had such a guide when I was a new, young manager! With an emphasis on self-awareness which is key to becoming a successful leader, the reader is guided through the steps of identifying the qualities in others both real and fiction that we admire, and creating the “montage” of the leader we would like to be.

This is a must have guidebook for every new or developing leader.

Author information: Jan Schmuckler.

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