Book Reviews

Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer

Carl Rollyson’s review of Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer by Iris Jamahl Dunkle. Not often does a biography begin with a villain—a biographer no less. In a rousing opening, Iris Jamahl Dunkle has Irving Stone explode on the scene, romancing Jack London’s widow, Charmian Kittredge London, and dancing her into cooperating with his desire to write a biography, Sailor on Horseback (1938), which casts the woman as the femme fatale that, in effect, drives her husband Jack to suicide. Dunkle’s book might well be titled “Justice to Charmian.”  . . . . . .  Dunkle, who gets on with her story in a lively fashion, feeding our appetite for the fascinating account that supplants Stone’s melodrama. Although Jack London, the writer as adventurer, might overwhelm anyone else’s own story, Dunkle manages to depict her subject in the round, as Charmian saw herself and as others responded to her. Here is…

Book Reviews

A Painter’s Garden: Cultivating the Creative Life

A Painter’s Garden: Cultivating the Creative Life, by Christine Walker is one of my all-time favorite books. But don’t just take my word on it. Here are what other readers think. ***** The parallels between lessons in the garden, the studio, and life in A Painter’s Garden ring true. Christine Walker’s writing is intelligent, evocative, elegant, and articulate. She addresses universal truths about the creative process in an accessible and fresh way. And she renders very complex emotions in beautifully simple terms—weaving her experience of motherhood into an examination of her working methods in the studio, “feeling a cadence as measured as the breathing of a sleeping child.” —Eleanor Coppola is an American documentary filmmaker, artist and writer. She is the director of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse and other documentaries. Eleanor is  the writer and director of the romantic comedies Paris Can Wait and Love is Love is…

Book Reviews

Diary of a Mad Poet

Jonah Raskin’s review of Diary of a Mad Poet: Robin Gabbert’s new book of poems, Diary of a Mad Poet—her first published book—comes out of pain and loss, fire and cancer, but they are also poems of healing and joy, family ties and friendships. Some take place in the far away past, others in the near present. Some experiment with form and the arrangement of words on the page. In one poem the author asks “Has God deserted you? Was he ever there to?” Altogether, Gabbert’s individual poems add up to a portrait of a life lived fully. They offer hope to readers like the author herself who have come through troubles and who delight in the powers of memory and the rigors of the English language. Jonah Raskin is the author of seven poetry chapbooks, a performance poet, and the author of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and the Making of…

Book Reviews

The Strongbox

“I do most of my pleasure reading in bed, and I found myself eager to pick up The Strongbox, night after night, as the story unfolded. I knew from the book description that author Terry Sue Harms would come out okay in the end—despite setbacks that would have broken many: neglectful parents, a stepdad who called her a bastard, the death of her mother when she was sixteen, running away from home, dropping out of high school, and exposure to drugs. But how? I kept reading to find out. She wrote honestly about her vulnerabilities but kept me feeling safe along the way. “The author’s smooth, almost conversational story-telling drew me in and compelled me to read on. I marveled each time she pulled herself up: by completing beauty school, landing a steady job, teaching herself to read, taking college courses, graduating from Mills College. I cheered with her along…

Book Reviews

Story Power

If you’re looking for a guide to the art of storytelling, look no further than Kate Farrell’s Story Power. Using examples and advice contributed by over twenty successful writers, Farrell shows us how and why they succeed at transforming life events into distilled, impactful stories. Each chapter provides tips, examples, prompts, and exercises to help you select significant events from your own life—early childhood to adult life, family secrets to family lore—and craft them into compelling oral or written narratives.  Story Power shows you how to find the layers of meaning in your stories as well as how to shape them using the basic elements of setting, character, conflict, narrative arc, and resolution. In addition to guiding the story creation process, Story Power dives into the age-old reasons for oral storytelling: self-discovery, connection, inspiration, influence, and passing on family or tribe traditions. In today’s social-media world, Story Power stands out as a resource to help us…

Book Reviews

The Village of Bones

The Village of Bones by Mary Mackey reviewed by Jonelle Patrick: Built on meticulous research, this prequel to Mary Mackey’s “The Year The Horses Came” delivers a fascinating and believable glimpse into what life might have been like in long-ago Europe, in a society where the gods are female and women rule. It’s a page-turner of a journey, steeped in ancient beliefs and prophetic visions, given an all-too-human urgency as the priestess Sabalah faces an enemy whose fierce, unstoppable technology could destroy her society’s way of life. Jonelle Patrick, is the author of  The Last Tea Bowl Thief and the Only In Tokyo mystery series. The Village of Bones reviewed by Kate Farrell: Ever since I read Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, I’ve been fascinated with goddess cultures and what became of them. So, when I discovered Mary Mackey’s Earthsong Series, I devoured every one of the four books and…

Book Reviews

Sarah’s Secret

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgivenes by Beverly Scott, reviewed by Maurice L. Monette If you enjoy being transported to another time in U.S. history, to an unfamiliar place and culture, with people who are different from yourself, then you may like Sarah’s Secret as much as I did.  Written with sensitivity from a mother and wife’s perspective, the story immerses the reader into the arduous life of women homesteading in the prairie and desert states at the turn of the last century. The details are so vivid that they could only emerge from the mind of an author who has intimately experienced motherhood and marriage, and has carefully researched history. Particularly delightful to this lover of history are the many detailed descriptions, such as living in a dugout with no windows, surviving winter snowstorms on the plains, driving cattle to market, scraping for food and water…

Book Reviews

Dance Life

Dance Life by Lisa Alpine, reviewed by Mary Jo Rice. Lisa Alpine’s Dance Life is a colorful page turner. Whether a seasoned traveler, dancer, or neither, you will be captivated by Lisa’s daring solo adventures around the globe and her freedom connecting with fascinating locals, especially those to share her passion for dance – anywhere, any hour, any form – atop a table, on a beach, under the full moon, or occasionally under the influence. Lisa’s engrossing and enchanted tales transport me to an expansive potential within to invite the unknown and to welcome a broader scope of experience for the pure joy of living more freely and more fully. Love this book! WARNING: Read at your own risk: Spinoff symptoms may develop including intense wanderlust and an overwhelming desire to sway, gyrate, and spend the rest of your life traveling and dancing! Mary Jo Rice safeguards whales and dolphins…

Book Reviews

I’ll Be Seeing You

People magazine described Elizabeth Berg’s latest book, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” as “a memoir of dementia’s ravages.” And therein lies the decision whether or not to read this book. I chose to read this book because I’m a huge Elizabeth Berg fan. I have read all of her books and like most of them. But I wasn’t straining at the bit to read this one because I wasn’t sure about Elizabeth as a memoirist and wasn’t sure I wanted to read about anyone’s decline into Alzheimer’s. Elizabeth is an amazing writer, able to get to the heart of her characters. I think that’s because she is so authentic, so genuine, and so lovely. Her writing in this book does not disappoint. However, a caution: If someone you care about is experiencing Alzheimer’s, or if you are worried that you are, this book might not be for you. On the other…

Book Reviews

The Most Fun We Ever Had

“The Most Fun We Ever Had” by Claire Lombardo is one of a handful of books I read a second time, right after the first reading. I read quickly the first time to find out what would happen. I read carefully the second time to savor passages and to try to understand the structure. The second reading also helped to understand the characters and their actions. This book is complex with traveling back and forth in time, and switching point of view, making it hard to know who “she” and “he” are referring to. I think, with some editing, the pronouns could be made clearer and there could be consistent ellipses and em-dash usage. I grew to like this family, like comfortable slippers. They took some getting used to. I didn’t really like the parents until trouble, in the name of Gillian, surfaced. Reading this during the Covid-19 pandemic, the…