Race, Peggy. Desiree: the Music of My Soul. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2021.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing I review books for the Early Review program. This is the August 2021 selection.
There is no doubt in my mind Peggy Race has had her share of heartbreak. This is how one dog was able to mend her heart and put her on a path of purpose. Losing her second husband of only nine months to a freakish accident, Peggy was lost. Dogs became her lifeline. One dog in particular became her saving grace.
Confessional: this took me a really long time to read. The language is extremely flowery, for lack of a better way to describe it. The overuse of the word “as” became obsessively distracting. I became acutely aware of every time it was used as an adverb, conjunction, or preposition. It just seemed to be everywhere. Additionally, every sentence with “ing” as a suffix was equally distracting. There seem to be a formula to Race’s writing because “like” imagery was everywhere: “Like a film reel…” “Like the waters of Katrina…” “Like a blank chalkboard…” “Like a soundtrack of songs…” “Like a fresh coat of paint…” I could go on and on. I loved the story. I loved Peggy’s devotion to puppy mill dogs and her volunteerism brought me to tears at times. I just couldn’t synch with her writing style.
As an aside, I am addicted to a voyeuristic show called “Murder, Suicide, Accident.” Each episode is dedicated to a person’s questionable death. There is a certain formula to the show. Someone finds the body and from all outward appearances it looks like either a suicide or an accident. Enter the medical examiner, pathologist, and autopsy reports. Suggestable evidence points to something quite different happened. Experts agree something isn’t sitting well with the evidence. At the same time loved ones are interviewed and their words support a particular slant – “She was depressed and mentioned suicide to me.” “They were fighting a lot right before he died. She threatened to leave. The cops were called a few times.” “She was always getting hurt and was very accident prone.” The viewer starts to make judgements on the nature of death until there is a killer’s confession, suicide note, or irrefutable evidence pointing to an accident. Terry’s death could be featured on this show. Family would argue Terry was an expert rider. Would he work in a closed garage with a motorcycle running? Would he intentionally kill himself leaving his worldly belongings to an ex-girlfriend only nine months after marrying Peggy? Both of these actions seen short-sighted and slightly daft.
Playlist: “Thank God for Kids,” “God Bless the USA,” “I will Remember You,” “Have You Ever Been in Love,” “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Author fact: Race has written other books about rescuing dogs.
Book trivia: there were no photographs in my copy of Desiree.
Line I hope is kept in the final publishing, “Plowing through the uncultivated boundaries of my heart, I managed the feelings that came with loss” (p 6). That is what you do, isn’t it? You keep charging through unrefined emotions, just trying to keep your sh!t together.
Picardi, Carrie. Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know. Vibrant Publishers, 2021.
I should preface this review by saying I read Leadership Essentials on my phone. I have no idea what the print version will look like. The very first thing I noticed about Leadership Essentials is that it is a very short book. It’s made even shorter by pages of expert reviews, a page of author information, a page for acknowledgements, a page of a table of contents, and a few blank pages thrown in for good measure. The second thing to jump out at me was the discount code for three books for the price of two. That set the tone for me. It’s all about the sale.
As an author fact, Picardi is also a professor which is apparent when she presents learning objectives as deliverables for her book. I thought that was a nice touch – here is what I promise you will get out of this book. Not many “self help” books do that. What I didn’t appreciate were the quizzes – at least on the phone. When I went to find the answers (using the outside link) I was confronted with someone wanting to chat with me. There was no clear way to find just the answers so I gave up. I also gave up reading the book entirely because, at least on the phone, it wasn’t user-friendly. Picardi gives sound advice on how to be a good leader. I just found the delivery method to be lacking.
Book trivia: Leadership Essentials is part of a self learning management series.
Cook, Kevin. The Burning Blue: the Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger Disaster. New York: Henry Holt, 2021.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally win books to read and review.
If someone asked, you probably couldn’t remember where you were on January 28th, 1986, but if the question was phrased a little differently I know you can: “Where were you when NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded?” Say the name Christa McAuliffe and everyone knows her name. Personally, I know exactly where I was when the tragedy occurred: high school, in the Vortex, cozying up to a guy named Jim. I remember hiding my face when the plumes of white smoke arced across the sky. No escaping the tragedy.
As outsiders witness to the unforgettable horror, we all have preconceived notions of what really happened that day. Cook takes the Challenger tragedy and puts a face to all who were impacted. Christa and her fellow space travelers were not the only souls lost on 1986’s twenty-eighth day. It is obvious from the level of personal detail, Cook researched the entire event and those leading up to it very carefully and was extremely thorough with every detail. All in all, it is a well-told tale. In truth, as the pages went by I had a hard time reading it. Just knowing every chapter would take me closer to the time of McAuliffe’s demise made it hard to continue. As an aside, I felt the same way about reading Anne Frank’s diary. This is a story that doesn’t have a Hollywood ending. It is strange how NASA provided some resistance to the Challenger accident investigation and even stranger that simple 0-ring problems were reported for years and no one listened when Sally Ride leaked the information.
Here’s what I fully believe: Rumor has it Reagan was going to cut funding if the shuttle didn’t launch on January 28th, 1986.
An added eeriness to McAuliffe’s story is just how often people alluded to the dangers as she trained for the event. It was if there were signs trying to tell her not to join the launch.
Playlist: Jefferson Airplane, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Queen, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, U2, “A Time for Us,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Rocky Mountain High,” Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” “We are The World, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “God Bless America,” “Flying for Me” by John Denver, and “God Bless the USA.”
Author fact: Kevin Cook has written for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, GQ, etc., but the coolest fact is that he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. That’s just up the road from me.
Book trivia: The Burning Blue was scheduled to go on sale in June and should have 16 pages of photographs.
Scarmuzzi, Don J. Day Hikes in Washington State: 90 Favorite Trails, Loops and Summit Scrambles.
Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
Day Hikes in Washington State is a follow up to Day Hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Having not read the Pacific Northwest guide I had no idea what to expect from the Washington State guide. Even more so, since I am on the East Coast and have never been to Washington State, this seems like an odd book to request as an Early Review. I am an avid hiker and wanted to review a book based solely on its information. I feel I would review a guide differently if I was intimately familiar with the area.
In truth, I can only find one thing to criticize. Scarmuzzi is uber current by talking about social distancing. Hopefully we won’t always be in this Covid predicament and that information will become obsolete. The good news is I can imagine this book dog-eared, sun-faded, and well-read in the back of some car’s back window. There is a good deal of valuable information and all of it is incredibly organized. The photography is gorgeous. The maps are clear. What is unique about Scarmuzzi’s book is each trail is intimately detailed all along the route. He includes more turn by turn descriptions than your standard guide book, going beyond just stating level of difficulty and elevation.
I enjoyed this guide so much I may have to make a trip to Washington just to hike the trails, loops and summit scrambles Scarmuzzi recommends. In the meantime, I urge him to visit Monhegan Island and write a book about their coastal trails. It would be fantastic!
Book trivia: This book is a little oversized to be carried in one’s day pack. It would have be awesome if it had smaller dimensions to allow for portability.
Author fact: Scarmuzzi has three books to his name according to LibraryThing’s catalog.
Rochard, Morgen. Personal Finance QuickStart Guide: the Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Eliminating Financial Stress, Building Wealth, and Achieving Financial Freedom. ClydeBank Media, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to receive this e-book in exchange for an honest review.
Honestly, from the moment I downloaded this book I was rubbed the wrong way. I am not a big fan of “gotcha” moments. The first thing I was confronted with when starting to read Personal Finance QuickStart Guide was the words “Free Digital Assets” followed by “must be a first time Audible user; $15/mo. easy cancel anytime.” I read that to mean there was free content available to the reader, but said reader had to sign up for Audible (new subscribers only!) and a credit card would automatically be charged $15 every month unless one remembered to cancel the subscription in time. And! And. And, when they have to say “easy” cancel anytime, I’m thinking maybe it’s not all that easy. So. There’s that. Back to the review:
Rochard organized Personal Finance into two parts: Part 1 is an attempt to jump start personal finance improvement and learn how to navigate the financial world so that investment options become easier to understand. Part 2 is to confront financial problems and overcome them with confidence.
To fully review this book I had wanted to put into practice all of the advice and suggestions Rochard put out there – just to say what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t have time. For the most part, it all seemed like common sense. For example, take the very first scenario in the book: if you are going to drop down to one income and not change your expenses, you most definitely are headed for disaster. I did take note of the resources Rochard cited and do plan to read them for further information. [As an aside, when I lost my job for five months in the early stages of Covid my husband and I immediately suspended some luxuries, looked into every cost saving measure we could; even considered making hard decisions about retirement plans. It seemed like the right thing to do. Actually, it was the only thing to do at the time.]
Sherry, Kristin A. Maximize 365: A Year of Actionable Tips to Transform Your Life. Texas: Black Rose, 2021
Reason read: chosen for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing.
Inspired by a combination of the works of Bob Sager and Zig Ziglar Kristin Sherry has come up with her own five forms of life-wealth: Health and Wellness, Spirituality, Relationships, Career, and Finances. Each chapter is dedicated to themes surrounding the five forms of life-health and each theme is only a page long. Sherry’s book is chock full of great advice although not all of it is hers. She has curated dozens of websites, YouTube videos, Tedx Talks, quotes, articles and books from other experts and compiled them in Maximize 365. I thought of her book as more of an encyclopedia for the learners and the curious; anyone interested in self-development but too busy and overwhelmed to find each resource individually.
There is truth to the information Sherry shares in Maximize 365. My favorite example would be something my husband and I started doing early in the pandemic: taking hikes in the woods. Described by the Japanese as Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest” Sherry reports taking twenty-minute walks through nature several times a week as a way to stave off depression. It works.
Another element of Maximize 365 I could relate to was when Sherry describes being busy as a “status symbol.” That may be true, but it is also a generational thing. My mother and father worked seven days a week. Sitting and reading a book was seen as indulgent or lazy. Always doing something constructive was preferred. Books and sitting still were saved for bad weather or illness. To this day my mother cannot sit in one place for very long. I have inherited her sense of constant motion.
My biggest pet peeve: sometimes Sherry will refer to a book but not give the author credit.
Confessional: I skipped the religious piece because what if I am not a practicing Christian? What if my belief does not have a capital G god? What if my book of faith is not the Bible?
Another way to make Maximize 365 more inclusive is to remove the word “marriage” and call it life relationships or intimate partnerships. Some people cannot get married because of their sexual orientation or ethnic differences. What if someone wanted to work on their relationship skills as a parent?
Thebe, Amanda. Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books.
Amanda Thebe wants you to join a community of women pushing their way through middle age. Through her book, Menopocalypse, she wants you to know you are not alone, nor are you living in Crazy Town. Your body and mind may feel like they have been taken over by aliens, but fear not! This too shall pass. Thebe’s style of writing is approachable and conversationally candid. She swears a lot. I’m okay with that. I’m less okay with how often she repeats herself. In the chapter about stress and sleep she bullets different ways to combat stress and get more sleep. Only they are not all different – walking is mentioned three different times. It’s as if the repetitiveness is there to combat a shorter book. That being said, there is a lot of great information in an easily digestible format. I never knew the loss of balance after menopause was a thing.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about this book. I requested an Advanced Reader’s Copy because I am in the thick of “the change” myself. Most appreciated: the photographs of strength training moves and a suggested scheduled routine. As an avid runner, I always appreciate a variety of routines to keep me fit.
Deep confessional: it took me a while to recognize my own sorry state of affairs. In my mid-forties I was training for a full marathon and my periods were wildly erratic. Previously blessed with a cycle as regular as clockwork, I suddenly found myself never knowing when the flow would start, how heavy it would be, or how long it would last. I was ruining clothes and my disposition on a frequent basis. Doctors told me this: because of all the running I was putting my body through, my body was “rebelling” and holding my menstrual cycle “hostage.” I was told to be patient as it would take some time to get back to normal. That was over five years ago. My body officially resigned from menstruation two years ago.
Author fact: Thebe is a personally trainer with twenty years in the industry, so her physique was already primed for menopause. Her book should have a disclaimer, “results not typical.”
Book trivia: According to the back cover, this book is already on sale (since October 2020).
Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.
As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.
Boyden, Amanda. I Got the Dog. New Orleans: Lavender Ink, 2020.
Reason read: an Early Review from LibraryThing.
At turns Boyden is tender and sweet, sassy and sarcastic, funny and melancholy. There is heartache and humor underneath the solid layer of honesty. She twists and turns from childhood memories to adult turmoil with as much ease as I imagine she does swinging on her beloved trapeze. I loved her fierce attitude. It’s a bit rambling in places. You get the general idea she is heartbroken over her divorce, but at the same time celebrates breaking free while remembering seemingly unrelated bits of her past.
As an aside, who else Google Arcade Fire’s performance at Jazz Fest to find Boyden (and friends) dancing on stage in paper mache bobble heads? All I could picture was Natalie Merchant swaying under the weight of a ginormous puppet head as she sang “You Happy Puppet” on July 4th, 1989. Performance art at its best.
Here’s the strange thing – out of all the Early Review books, this is one of my favorites. For some reason I have a hard time articulating why.
Newman, Mark. My Fence is Electric: and Other Stories. Australia: Odyssey Books, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review My Fence is Electric.
It would have been great If Newman had called his book, My Fence is Electric: and Other Eclectic Stories because the stories are both electric and eclectic. Twenty seven in all; ranging from a single paragraph to several pages long, they run the gamut of plot, theme, character, voice and emotional impact. Newman’s talent as a writing chameleon is apparent in every paragraph. The very first story reminded me of Lovely Bones while another had me thinking of the Daley twins. Despite the entire volume being extremely short, take your time with this one. Savor the stories as if you would an elaborate charcuterie. Each bite is a different adventure.
Author fact: Newman has a a website here.
Forgrave, Reid. Love, Zac: Small-Twon Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was asked to read and review Love, Zac.
The entire time I was reading Love, Zac I was asking myself why this book wasn’t written sooner. It is not Forgrave’s fault for coming to the table with Zac’s story after the fact; when it was too late to save Zac himself. I believe this is the kind of book that could save lives if the right people read it at the right time and read it the right way. Don’t look at it as one kid’s story; one instance of a brain injury gone wrong. Don’t diminish the damage by arguing Zac didn’t even play football in college. Read it for what it is, a plaintive cry, a demand to take a harder look at a hard hitting sport. There is no denying the fact an epidemic of football-induced concussions ruin lives long after the game is over. Forgrave writes in a manner that is straight to the heart; a punch to the gut.
Love, Zac was advertised as a book every parent should read. I am not a parent. I am not a coach. But, here is the irony. I sit with Love, Zac on my knees while my husband shouts “hit ’em!” at the television. Opening day of the NFL’s 2020 season in a pandemic.
Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.
The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.
Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.
Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.
While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.
Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.
Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?
Abramsky, Sasha. Little Wonder: the Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Superstar. Brooklyn, New York: Akashic Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this for the Early Review program.
Charlotte Dod. If you don’t know her name, you don’t know the history of women in sports. Don’t feel bad though. Despite being a multitalented athlete, her fame as a star burned bright in many arenas, but faded from all of them just as quickly. First known as a tennis sensation at the age of fourteen, Lottie (as she was known), only played competitively for five years. In that time she became the doyenne of tennis, winning five Wimbledons. The only years she didn’t win she didn’t even compete. Sadly, it was as if she grew tired of smashing the competition and needed new thrills. She left the sport…at twenty one years of age. After tennis, Dod set her sights on field hockey. She helped pioneer the sport for women. Then came skating. Obsessively training for hours on end, Dod was not only able to pass the rigorous women’s skating test, she passed the much more difficult men’s test as well. When she was done with ice skates and cold weather , she moved on to golf and mountaineering and archery and Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing and choral singing. She climbed mountains in support of women seeking equal rights and won a silver medal for archery at the 1908 summer Olympic games.
While Abramsky does a great job detailing Lottie’s life, he has to fill in the gaps with speculation because sadly, much of her correspondence was lost or deliberately destroyed. Expect words like “maybe” and “perhaps” and “might.” The photographs are fantastic.
Arabella Garrett Anderson, Agatha Christie, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Nelly Bly were contemporaries of Dod’s.
Duke, Kim. A Fine Mess. Plymouth, MI: BHC Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review Duke’s book.
The first word that comes to mind when reading A Fine Mess is chameleon. Depending on your mood, this book could be seen as trivial happy horse you-know-what or,if you are in a good mood, poignant and heartwarming. The good news is Duke acknowledges that in the title by calling A Fine Mess “little” and “odd.” Okay, so it is a lot odd at times.
Depending on your mood, you could see the colorful illustrations and photography as evocative and capable of inspiring heartfelt emotion. On another day you could be annoyed by the self-help journaling pages; declaring A Fine Mess as helpful as the pseudo-psychological quizzes you find in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine. How Happy Are You? Take This Test To Find Out!
Depending on your mood, you could question what making fun of a sculpture has to do with breast cancer. You could question why Duke doesn’t bemoan the loss of hair or appetite or secure body image. On another day you could applaud her ability to make connections to before cancer and after cancer and her courageous ability to make sense of the randomness of the disease.
Depending on your mood, A Fine Mess could be a humorous gift to give a struggling friend or your worst enemy.
Either way, one thing is for certain. It will take you all of ten minutes to read. Whether you go back and read it again is entirely dependent on your mood.
As an aside, I want to ask Duke if her statement about hope was intentionally similar to the Emily Dickinson poem. That seemed a little coy, even if it was a play on words.