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30 Nov
2018
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Book Review: “Sold on a Monday” by Kristina McMorris

 

Book reviewed by Bev Scott

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorrisSold on a Monday is Inspired by a photograph of children with the sign “2 Children for Sale” from 1948 which the author Kristina McMorris stumbled upon. The story challenges journalistic integrity, tugs at your heartstrings and offers a sweet love story. Ellis, an aspiring newspaper reporter in the early 1930’s, desperate to advance his career takes a chance on a staged photo. Casually assisted by Lily, another employee of the newspaper, who is guarding her own secret, he gets his big chance.  But guilt pursues him, and he takes more chances with his career to assuage his worry about his contribution to what happened to the children. Lily with her own burden of shame, and a need to balance motherhood and a career, also pursues a dubious path in search of information about the children. Their individual and joint efforts both separate them and bring them together.

McMorris writes a touching yet gripping story. I turned the pages anxious to learn the compelling mystery of the children. The characters are realistically developed and the plot drew me in immediately. My only criticism of the book, is what seems to me to be unrealistic illegal risks taken by Ellis and Lily. Although the country was less suspicious and legalistic than it is today, I wonder if the actions they take to recover the children would have been realistically possible in the 1930’s? On the other hand, it is fiction and a good read.

I recommend this book which I purchased at a reading by the author.

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9 Jul
2018
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Book Review: “Prairie Fires – The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder” by Caroline Fraser

Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser, book review by Bev Scott Author

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Reading and preparing this summary and review of Prairie Fires has been a long-term endeavor. Caroline Fraser has done a brilliant work describing the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the historical context of the time. She won both a Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Award. She begins the historical detail before Laura Ingalls was born in 1867 and describes the nine decades of Wilder’s life. Wilder died in 1957 but Fraser also gives us a postscript, describing the controversies which surrounded her estate. Fraser draws on letters, diaries, land and financial records filling in gaps in Wilder’s biography. As an amateur historian especially interested in American history, I was engrossed with the setting and the detail Fraser provided; and it took time for me to absorb it all.

Laura Ingalls was born after the US Army had devastated the Dakota Indians. The Homestead Act gave white settlers official permission to take the land in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Dakota Territory once occupied by Native Americans. She and her family lived through the natural disasters of drought, extreme heat, locust swarms and blizzards. Her father was unable to make a living for his family as a farmer. The family lost everything and literally skipped out of town to escape debts. Often overwhelmed with responsibilities and anxiety, Laura worked to help support her family, running errands, serving as a companion and seamstress, turning all her earnings over to her parents. At fifteen, she passed the exam to become a teacher of small children at a little school a few miles from home.

Almanzo Wilder came each weekend to pick her up in his wagon. She agreed to marry him in 1885 when she was 17. Although their first year of marriage was a magical one, Laura worried about money and the debt that Almanzo had accumulated to provide her a handsome house. In 1886 a baby girl, Rose was born adding another worry. Fraser points out that the economics were impossible. After expenses and setting aside seed for the next year, there was a little more than $40 to live on for another year. Even imagining that living on $40 was possible, disasters seem to stalk the Wilders: drought, cyclones, failing crops, fire, diphtheria, Almanzo’s crippling stroke. The title of the book, Prairie Fires refers to one of the disasters they confronted. They ultimately decided to leave.

Ingalls Family photograph

The Ingalls Family

Chicago and North Western Railway Company poster c 1870 encouraging immigrants to move to Dakota using their railroad

When they finally settled in Mansfield, Missouri in 1894, Laura would “step by cautious step, sieze control of their circumstances” proving herself adept to find ingenious ways to earn income, live frugally and manage their meager assets.  Fraser paints a picture of the grit and determination of Wilder’s struggle to survive. This was the beginning of their journey back from the brink of ruin. As Fraser describes, Laura Wilder’s life was a “titanic struggle to tame yet another wilderness alone with her crippled husband and a seven-year-old.” Because he was disabled by his stroke, Almanzo could not work a full day on the farm. They moved into town and he began a business making deliveries and hauling passengers. Laura worked keeping books for the oil company.

When her father died, Laura wrote an essay about her earliest memories of him. She described his greatest gift was his contentment with what he had. It was a powerful essay, remembering all of the songs he played, passionately describing everything about him. It was a beginning of her writing.

Her daughter, Rose, also began writing. At twenty-two after following a beau to San Francisco in 1908, she began writing newspaper stories. She shed her sense of inferiority and feelings of being unwanted and adopted a “belief in her superiority, a self-assured rejection of authority and those who wielded it.” She endeavored for the rest of Laura Wilder’s life to be her writing instructor and guide. The former strict matriarch, acknowledging her own insecurity, took her daughter’s hand and launched into a new career. This new relationship between mother and daughter lasted for the next forty years. (For a deeper look into Rose and Laura as collaborators, see article in The New Yorker, “Wilder Women.”)

By 1916 Wilder was a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist. She developed her voice and themes through her involvement and activism as a clubwoman, member of a Masonic organization, farm activist, secretary-treasurer for the Mansfield branch of the federal Farm Loan Association as well as a prolific columnist for the Ruralist. Wilder’s first national magazine article came through her daughter’s connections and marked their first collaborative clash. Using her former husband name, Rose Lane had a burgeoning career as a celebrity biographer by 1917. She was also a talented and insightful line editor. She wrote several pages of suggestions for a project Laura was working on urging her to pay attention to the rules of good writing, show rather than tell, stick to a narrative voice, provide colorful details and pay close attention to transitions.

Laura Wilder was working on her autobiography and writing children’s stories. Rose Lane discouraged her from writing children’s stories as trivial with no opportunity to make a name. Initially, her autobiography was rejected despite Rose’s revisions but was ultimately accepted, and she was asked to re-write it as a children’s story. Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods sold strongly during the Depression. Wilder was already hard at work on another book. Her books ultimately were listed in the top twenty bestselling children’s book of all time!

Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser, reviewed by Bev Scott Author

Laura Ingalls Wilder on her porch, home in the town of Mansfield, Missouri, early 1900’s

Laura Ingalls Wilder became one of the most significant influencers of our American culture. She showed children how to be poor without shame, demonstrated the heroism of endurance, celebrated the simple pleasures and how to make the best of what you have. She spoke against government intervention and opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal believing everyone could and should support themselves. She never acknowledged, perhaps never recognized, that the homesteading both her parents and her own family took advantage of was a gift of the government.

In Fraser’s biography of Wilder, we come to see that her autobiographical novels are stories that transform the brutal hardship she experienced into the American myth of stoicism, a romantic idealism of poverty and the ethos of individualism. We see the contradictions in her strength, perseverance and grit as a woman to aggressively pursue survival without debt with her belief that women belonged at home and in the kitchen. We also see the influence of her cultural times when we use today’s lens to identify the racist language and stereotypes in her books.

Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, reviewed by Bev Scott

Farmer at the plow, “breaking” prairie sod.

Fraser not only writes a detailed story of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and the historical times in which she lived, but she also chronicles the life of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Lane was Wilder’s editor, instructor and guide who revised and rewrote her work frequently without either of them acknowledging Rose’s contribution. Rose had no compunction to expanding the truth and including creative additions to the story that never happened. Wilder apparently saw nothing wrong with Rose’s fictional reporting. Neither of them heeded the strict standards that emerged at the time from the journalism school at the University of Missouri. Wilder accepted Lane’s practice of merging truth and fiction, publicly claiming that her books were true when at least some of the story was fiction.

Prairie Fires is a detailed, carefully crafted historical work. Fraser places the life of Wilder in the cultural context of the events on the American Plains of the nineteenth century and social forces and seismic shifts of the first half of the twentieth century. These events and social forces molded and shaped Wilder’s voice and philosophy which are embedded in the Little House stories. This cultural context helps us understand their enormous influence. Despite my frustration of so much attention given to Rose Wilder Lane, I highly recommend this book.

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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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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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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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8 Dec
2016
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Book Review: “Fire Lilies” by Cynthia Leal Massey

Fire Lilies, by Cynthia Leal Massey

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The story of two beautiful and rebellious sisters in early twentieth-century Mexico hooked me with the opening chapter, and continued to move at a fast, engaging pace. The loves and passions of these two sisters is intertwined with the political intrigue and upheavals of the Mexican Revolution. The author provides an engaging historical context which adds depth and interest to the unfolding romances of Dolores and Alicia.

Dolores, forced by her father to marry an older man who is cruel and demanding, falls in love with a vaquero working on her husband’s hacienda. She takes amazing risks for her life, defies the expectations of her family’s social class and struggles to control the carnal desires expressed by her sister’s husband.

Alicia, the younger sister refuses a marriage arranged by her father and marries the man she loves but with lower social standing. Her love and trust of her husband results in the birth of fifteen children which is almost beyond belief, but, perhaps tolerable if one has servants. Ultimately, she is forced to cope with unfaithfulness, the disruption of the revolution, death and the loss of her comfortable way of life.

I highly recommend this historical romance set in a little known period of Mexican history.

More information: Cynthia Leal Massey

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8 Jun
2016
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Book Review: “The Girl from Krakow” by Alex Rosenberg

The Girl From Krakow: Book Review

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a story of passion, maternal instincts and subterfuge during World War II in Poland. Rita, a young Jewish woman searching for a more exciting life is studying law in Krakow when she meets Urs in his last year of medical school. Despite her initial resistance, she marries him but finds his stiff and routine approach to sex unsatisfying to her. She meets and launches what later becomes a passionate affair with Dr. Tadeusz, the second main protagonist, who is deceptive with a tendency to delude and fabricate stories to meet his own needs. When Rita’s husband discovers their weekly trysts under the guise of infertility treatments, he attempts suicide. The affair is ended and Rita reconciles with Urs to maintain appearances. When she discovers she is indeed pregnant, he is relieved as he counts back and realizes the child is his.

Germany has put an end to Poland, controlling the east while the Soviets have marched into the west. Urs now working for a Soviet government clinic is soon ordered to leave for conscription in the Soviet army. Rita and her young son are left behind. She rents out a room to Eric, a young man she finds interesting and attractive . A work permit at a factory allows him connections to help get Rita’s son sent with a Polish resistance courier to deliver her son to her parents. Unfortunately, when she learns that the courier is arrested by the Nazis, it is doubtful her son was delivered to her parents. But she never gives up believing that he somehow survives. Eric’s connection allows her to obtain false identity papers and escape to Warsaw to begin looking for her son. With German looks, ability to speak flawless German as well as Polish and her daring courage, she takes many chances in her search for him. Meanwhile, we learn that the disingenuous Dr. Romero with his Spanish disguise is hiding out in Moscow, taking risks of his own.

The well-researched historical context of this book offers the opportunity for an engaging story about the personal pain and emotional challenges brought by the brutality of the Nazi invasion of Poland. However, some aspects of the book are confusing or distracting such as the story flipping between the setting for two main protagonists Rita and Dr. Romero. I was also troubled by a lack of character development for Dr. Romero and I questioned the believability of Rita’s character especially her risky sexual behavior. Despite these concerns, I enjoyed the book and found the story engrossing.

Author:  Alex Rosenberg

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10 May
2016
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Book Review: “Behind Palace Walls” by Erin Chase

Behind Palace Walls by Erin Chase

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Sheshamun, the adopted daughter of peasants, unexpectedly finds herself recommended to the Pharaoh’s harem. Finding life in the harem unlike her dream of living a royal life, and forbidden to see her parents, she escapes from the palace. Of course she is found and brought back to be sentenced by the Pharaoh to a slave camp, escaping a death sentence with the intervention of the Royal Wife. This experience provides the opportunity for Sheshamun to mature, gain confidence in herself and find support from the friends she makes. Sheshamun’s story kept me engaged as the author provides mystery, suspense and romance through the historical lens of ancient Egypt.

I have long enjoyed fiction about ancient Egypt and this was no exception. In contrast to other authors, Erin Chase provides us a glimpse not only into the luxuries of royal living but we also see the humble life of peasants and the spare existence of those condemned to the slave camp. It is a long book, however. I would encourage the author to reduce the length, as well as more closely follow advice offered by C.J. Lakin in her blog “Live, Write, Thrive”. Reduce the narrative description which is not necessary to move the story forward.

Author website: Erin Chase

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7 Mar
2016
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Book Review: “Online Marketing for Busy Authors” by Fauzia Burke

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review - Online Marketing

 

This small book is packed with tips, advice, suggestions and literal steps to plan and implement a marketing plan for authors who know little or even hate marketing.  Fauzia Burke takes your hand and guides you step by step.  She begins with your dreams, helps you establish your priorities, tells you how to implement and closes with the importance of on-going sales monitoring of your published book.  She gives helpful tips and advice to implement an online marketing plan including a website, mailing list, blog and social media.  Her recommendations hold for first-time self-published authors as well as the experienced or traditionally published.

Ms. Burke has devoted her career to marketing authors and supports her advice by including stories of her coaching and support for authors.  She writes with a clear direct style that encourages me to sit down and follow her advice step by step.

I recommend this book for all of us who are authors resisting and reluctant to market ourselves and our books.  Burke provides an easy to guide to help us overcome our foot-dragging.  I am motivated get started creating the marketing plan for my book.

Author Website: http://www.fauziaburke.com/online-marketing-for-busy-authors/

Reviewed by:  Bev Scott, March 7, 2016

 

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