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by Joy Harjo
When the Poet Laureate of the United States writes a memoir, you can expect it to deviate from the standard timeline format, and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave is anything but formulaic. She divides her book into four parts according to compass directions. As a Creek Indian, directions, nature, art, music, and family provide her orientation to life. Each section begins with poetic prose.
“East is the direction of beginnings.” She begins her tale this way and it is a little difficult to settle into the story as she shares her views from the eyes of a child filled with a mix of fear and adoration.
“North is the direction where the difficult teachers live.” In the second section, Harjo shares the realities of a brutal and abusive childhood in a time and culture that viewed spousal and child abuse and drunkenness as family problems to be either dealt with or endured within the family. After I read the book, I learned later through a webinar that this section was a very difficult one for Harjo to write. In fact, she got stuck for years on this part of her story with the book taking fourteen years to complete. There is redemption in her story, however, as education offers Harjo, as a teenager, a way out of her circumstances.
“West is the direction of endings.” In this section, Harjo describes her young adulthood as she becomes a teenage mother and finds herself trying to live in poverty, at odds with her mother-in-law, and responsible for a stepchild. What happened to her hopes and dreams for a creative life?
“South is the direction of release.” Probably the most poetic and visionary of the sections, “South” continues Harjo’s fight to survive but also interprets her dreams and visions as short stories and poems. She creates an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction in her writing featuring monsters, eagles, demons, and ancestors.
Harjo describes her panic attacks as monsters. She labels the instincts that help guide her decision making as the “knowing.” She refers to her ancestors, those who have passed, as guardians in her life, and she speaks to them through her poetry. This memoir is a mix of what really occurred, her perceptions of those events, and flights of fantasy taken from her dream world; she melds poetry and prose in mind bending impressions.
Crazy Brave personalizes for me the individual and tribal struggles of Native Americans. Although the abuse tied to alcoholism is difficult to read about, it is an important part of Harjo’s experiences and of understanding the Native culture that helped shape her voice as an author and artist.
Notes: Harjo is currently writing another memoir to continue her story where Crazy Brave left off.
Publication: July 9, 2012—W.W. Norton & Co.
Because music is a language that lives in the spiritual realms, we can hear it, we can notate it and create it, but we cannot hold it in our hands. Music can help raise a people up or call them to gather for war.
Though I was blurred with fear, I could still hear and feel the knowing. The knowing was my rudder, a shimmer of intelligent light, unerring in the midst of this destructive, terrible, and beautiful life. It is a strand of the divine, a pathway for the ancestors and teachers who love us.
It was in the fires of creativity at the Institute of American Indian Arts that my spirit found a place to heal. I thrived with others who carried family and personal stories similar to my own. I belonged. Mine was no longer a solitary journey.
The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You
by Shannan Martin
Where is a Christian’s mission field? You know, the ordinary person who has not been called to go to another country? Shannan Martin in The Ministry of Ordinary Places says it is wherever God has placed you. She doesn’t advocate passing out pamphlets, cornering people, or pushing invitations to come to church. Instead, we are to love people, listen to them, invite them into our homes, be available to them and to the opportunities to help them as God presents them to us.
As a rural introvert, Martin has had to change a lot in opening her heart, time, and home to her neighbors in a multicultural setting. She had to “choose the comfort of the past or the struggle of moving forward.” She learned that hospitality is not perfection in entertainment; it is extending invitations willy nilly, throwing together some tacos, and letting God take it from there. She has learned to receive kindness from others, understanding the cost of that kindness from someone who is down and out.
Martin’s story is engaging, and her writing style is excellent from the humorous “Go with God, good middle school bus driver. You are a rose among loud, hormonal, Hot-Cheetos-for-breakfast-eating, lanyard-flipping thorns” to sharp edged descriptions such as “She has known the desolate landscape of struggle. Hunger and wanting blow through her life like gale-force winds through a thin cotton jacket.” There is magic for the reader in words like these.
Martin does not believe in pushing Jesus down anyone’s throat; she makes her own heart accessible and invites others into her life where they not only see, but feel, the impact of Jesus on individual lives.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: October 9, 2018—Thomas Nelson
Only as we engage in the hidden practice of listening do we learn about the struggles of others, gaining empathy where we one cast judgement.
It’s so easy to tip into judgment when we view the world through an us-them dichotomy. Sitting face-to-face, the problems loom larger and we have to contend with the sticky fact that there is simply always more to the story.
…we are all longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we get so hung up on doing something great, we forget the best thing is often the smallest.
The Summer Nanny
by Holly Chamberlin
The term “women’s fiction” can connote quite a broad range of books. Thus I was unsure what to expect from The Summer Nanny by Holly Chamberlin. This story is actually two tales in one as best friends Amy and Hayley, from very different backgrounds and with very different prospects, decide to accept employment for the summer as nannies for wealthy vacationing families. Hayley is a product of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic and abusive father. She loves academia, but rather than finish college has to work cleaning houses to support her family. Amy’s father passed away when she was a baby, but her mother, a gifted crafter of fiber arts, has raised her in a small but comfortable home in a loving atmosphere.
Amy and Hayley find personal challenges in their summer jobs. Naive Amy is hired by a narcissistic and controlling successful businesswoman who claims to want to mentor Amy. Hayley, on the other hand, finds relief from her home environment in her job as a nanny for two year old twins whose mother is teaching French at a community college as a favor to a friend. Both girls experience personal growth as a result of their jobs. Romance plays a role in this novel, but so do family connections.
The style of The Summer Nanny with its short chapters keeps the plot moving as the focus of the chapters alternates between the two main characters. The book is interesting, but some of the scenes could have been omitted without sacrificing the integrity of the plot or the points the author wants to make.
Although this book could be considered a “beach read,” it is not really fluff. The author encourages the reader to examine questions of the causes and results of two abusive situations and the responses of the characters involved in them. There are definite themes of right and wrong and the importance of choices.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: One of the recurring characters in the book is a lesbian and a subplot concerns her relationship status, but there are no descriptions of a physical relationship.
Publication: June 26, 2018—Kensington Books
Hayley was smart enough to know there was no possibility of completely throwing off one’s past, but there had to be ways to move into the future relatively unencumbered by traumas experienced when one was young.
Love and admiration transformed an average-looking human being into an angel of beauty. Contempt and dislike transformed an average-looking human being into a goblin.
“What with arts education funding being cut so drastically, I feel I have to do something. Kids need to learn visual thinking and creative problem solving.”
Your Dream. God’s Plan.
by Tiffany Smiling
with Margot Starbuck
What were you like in fourth grade? How about when you were sixteen? Those are the ages at which Tiffany Smiling had major, life-changing medical events. She shares those stories in her book Your Dream. God’s Plan. Although these were pivotal points in Tiffany’s life, she was rescued by God to later do amazing things for His kingdom.
Your Dream. God’s Plan. is really focused on an audience of young women, but others can derive inspiration and guidance as well. She challenges young women to devote themselves to drawing close to God and then listening to the call He has for them. Her fascinating story relates miracles of how God used her and many amazing people she met to give out of their abundance and find that God always supplies enough.
Tiffany will draw you into worlds of poverty of body and spirit as she describes orphans, women rescued from sexual trafficking, extreme poverty, disease, and demons. But she also shares the many ways God answers prayers when the people of God make themselves available to be used by Him.
The book includes a section appropriate for study by groups or individuals for each chapter. There is a summarizing sentence followed by questions to help the reader personalize the content to her own life. The questions are followed by a “Dream Challenge” which focuses on how you can implement the concepts to find a closer relationship to God and thus discover His plan for your life. She finishes with a sentence or two “tip,” an additional quick take-away to help you make changes in your life to align your dream with God’s plan.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: I had so many “memorable lines” highlighted that I just pulled out the first 3/4 for use below. I am not a thirty-something or a new Christian, but there was still so much to ponder and so many possibilities for spiritual growth to attend to.
Publication: November 1, 2017 — Barbour Publishing
At the moment the “good life” was just within reach, I discovered that lasting satisfaction wasn’t found where I thought it might be. In fact, as God revealed to me that scrambling after the dream I’d bought into would never satisfy, I tasted something even more fulfilling.
As you release the barren pursuit of earthly pleasures, exchanging it for the surprising way of Jesus, you will experience lasting satisfaction as you embrace what matters most.
You were made for so much more. If you are a student or a single working woman or a missionary or a full-time mommy, there is a calling over your life that involves bringing light to the dark places—in university hallways, in work cubicles, in overseas villages, and in the rooms of your home. If you are willing to release your grip on the plans you’ve been holding for your life, God is waiting to show you His plan that is even better for you and for the people He loves.
Murder in the Dark
by Kerry Greenwood
I read Murder in the Dark intermittently in the midst of traveling and chaos, but I always looked forward to returning to it and was never disappointed. Invariably, the character of Phryne Fisher as a sleuth is delightful. In this book, the regulars of the series play a role, but a minor one, as little action occurs in Phryne’s home setting, but at an old rented estate where a rich and magnetizing brother and sister are holding what they bill as the Last Great Party of the year. Phryne has been invited to stop a threatened murder of the host. She has also been personally warned away from the affair. Anyone who knows Phryne understands that such threats only serve to ensure her attendance.
These mysterious warnings are entwined with other puzzling events once the weeklong party begins. Phryne must use her deductive and social skills to solve the mysteries. She also enlists the help of a variety of people she encounters, both servants and other guests. The resolutions of the mysteries are surprising and not without action scenes. I love that Phryne spends her spare time at the event reading an Agatha Christie novel.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction
- heavy doses of drug use, sex, and gender transposition
- #16 in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series
Publication: May 2, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press
“Dot has a talent for being happy.”
Phryne didn’t believe in rigid routines. They robbed the day of spontaneity.
Her childhood had been so poor that Phryne still got a vague thrill when she turned on a tap and hot water came out.
Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
Admission of Guilt
by T. V. LoCicero
Admission of Guilt by T.V. LoCicero is a page turning thriller set in a rapidly declining Detroit. There is no easing into this story. The author immediately sets up his reader with sympathetic characters and then hits those characters and the reader with the reality of inner city life–poverty, children selling drugs, devastating budget cuts to education, gang warfare, and mafia control of the drug trade. Characters include an out of work teacher, a social worker, a P.I. and members of the country club set.
The characters find themselves making life and death decisions with moral, economic, and personal ramifications, and the reader is confronted with the age-old question of “does the end justify the means?” I guarantee lots of twists and turns to the plot that you just won’t expect and a book you won’t want to put down.
Admission of Guilt is Book 2 in The detroit I’m dying Trilogy but can be read as a standalone.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author, T. V. LoCicero, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery & Thriller
Notes: Warning–the language is not anywhere close to squeaky clean; it is appropriate for the characters in their culture and to change it would produce a dissonance between the characters and their reality.
Spring leaves, already withering, scratched and whispered in the few Dutch Elms still standing on this dark, working-class street. Birds chirped and chattered on the pre-dawn breeze, and a worn-out Plymouth whined slowly to a stop in front of one of these decrepit wood-framed flats. A smallish figure slipped out, ran to a big front porch, then darted back to the street.
Part teacher, part book lover, part entertainer–a true friend to homeless children!
For the last eight years, Colbert Nembhard has been bringing books (and smiles) to homeless children in The Bronx, New York.
Mr Nembhard, a librarian who’s been the manager of the Morrisania branch of the New York Public Library for 25 years, has been on a mission to making literacy a constant in their wandering and ever changing lives.
The New York Times reports:
“It’s a pleasure to come in here,” Mr. Nembhard began on that Wednesday, never removing his jacket during a presentation that was just short of a Mr. Rogers routine.
He began to sing, “Good morning to you,” and followed with “Wheels on the Bus.” The children joined in with a chorus of “round and round, round and round.”
Toddlers, fidgeting in their chairs or in their mothers’ arms, suddenly became fixated. They could not wait to flip open “Dear Zoo,” by Rod Campbell, a lift-a-flap book…
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The Sun is Also a Star
by Nicola Yoon
The Sun is Also a Star is the story of two immigrant families, one Korean and one Jamaican. Legal Korean son meets illegal Jamaican daughter on her deportation day. Both struggle with their identity on a personal level and a cultural level. There are also major conflicts within each family.
Most of the account is told within the scope of one day, but telling this story necessitates side trips into family history to discover motivations. There are no chapter divisions. There are labelled breaks according to who is is narrating the story, Daniel or Natasha. Sometimes there are passages about minor characters or philosophy narrated in the third person. This layout is initially slightly troublesome without chapter divisions, but as you are immersed in the storyline you realize how well this format works for this story.
The plot is engaging, the characters well developed, and the various settings reflect the cultural clashes. Additionally there is an underlying and unifying theme exploring fate, coincidences, and multiple universes. If just one incident had occurred a little sooner or a little later, how would that have affected the rest of the day’s events? It’s enough of a foray into philosophy and religion to attract a teen/young adult reader questioning their place in the order of things.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House UK) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Teen & YA Fiction/Romance
Notes: Mild Language
Publication: Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)–November 1, 2016
The impossible hungry mouth of her loneliness wanted to swallow her in a single piece.
“It’s not up to you to help other people fit you into a box.”
Sometimes your world shakes so hard, it’s difficult to imagine that everyone else isn’t feeling it too.
“This is the life you’re living. It’s not temporary and it’s not pretend and there’s no do over.”
Sunday, November 20, 2016 is the closing date for the drawing for a free copy of The Other Einstein. To enter, go back to the ORIGINAL GIVEAWAY POST. It’s easy to enter!
by Zadie Smith
Swing Time has been summarized in simplistic terms as the story of two dance-loving brown girls growing up in London. This friendship is actually only one part of a complicated story that extends from New York through London to West Africa and includes politics, religion, and a variety of cultures.
I was immediately drawn into the story as I read the Prologue. At that point I had other things to attend to and put the book away with regret thinking “if the Prologue is so engaging, the rest of the book must be fantastic.” And it was. Part of it. Unfortunately, it unintentionally reflected its title swinging back and forth from interesting to “let’s just move on through.”
Zadie Smith is undoubtedly a very good writer. For Swing Time she draws on her own Jamaican heritage as well as extensive research of West African culture. She also depicts the various social and cultural groups of London. She has interesting characters but she doesn’t always share a satisfactory motivation for their actions. Some of the characters, such as the never-named main character/narrator’s boss and her mother’s partner are important but are treated more as accessories to the story rather than fully developed personalities. I do not regret reading Swing Time, but I wouldn’t reread it.
Note: Language warning
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Penguin Random House UK for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.