Monday, August 26, 2013

ETCHED IN SAND by Regina Calcaterra

Regina Calcaterra's emotionally powerful memoir reveals how she endured a series of foster homes and intermittent homelessness in the shadow of the Hamptons, and how she rose above her past while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together.

 Regina and her four siblings survived extreme abuse and neglect at the hands of their mentally ill mother. Cookie was a woman who "left behind scorched earth" wherever she went. Unstable, promiscuous and violently abusive, she had five children by five different men. Chaos and instability reigned throughout Calcaterra's childhood. Early on, Cookie left the children with relatives or took them to live with new boyfriends. But as her alcoholism and mental illness worsened, she left them in homeless shelters, trailers, parking lots, run-down apartments or houses and then vanished, often for weeks or months at a time.

To survive, they stole food and clothes. They lied about their mother's whereabouts, as well as the burns, bruises and scratches that appeared on their bodies when she was home. Calcaterra emancipated herself at age 14 and reluctantly went to live with foster parents.  Woven into the narrative is Calcaterra’s search to discover the identity of her birth father, a man who resisted acknowledging that he is her parent; this conflict led to a landmark court decision in the state of Washington over an adult child’s right to an accurate determination of paternity; it also led to a touching reunion with other members of her birth father’s family.

Beautifully written and heartbreakingly honest, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Peck has does it again!   Another delightful story that takes place in Indiana. 
Fourteen year old Peewee and her brother, Jake are the main characters.

It is 1914, a time when there were expectation of females, and not one of them revolved around fixing cars.  None the less, that is what Peewee and her brother do to make a living.

A fateful afternoon, all that changes with the arrival of four women who decided that they want to run the public library.  All four are earning their degrees, and they recognize that this town needs them just as much as they need the town.

Changes abound throughout and ultimately a sweet coming of age tale is spun.  Can a functioning library not only change a person but an entire town?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Dying Hours

Because of the freewheeling way, DI Tom Thorne handled his last case, he has been busted back to patrol.  This means working different shifts, wearing a uniform, and taking notes instead of being in charge.  When he is called to the case of an elderly couple's suicide, he suspects murder but cannot put his finger on why.  His superiors on the Murder Squad are eager not to believe him, especially his boss.  In fact they rub his demotion in  at every opportunity.  Of course this spurs Tom on to prove he is right.  He calls upon his former colleagues to help him.  They do so grudgingly, out of loyalty,  not wanting to suffer his fate.  On the home front, he is still living with Helen whom he rescued in the last book and her young son. Of course Tom's inability to share his inner life and work with her leads to squabbles and we hope growth on his part.  As the suicide/murders increase, Tom works increasingly on his own and of course makes decisions that affect the lives of the potential victims.  The last sentence in the book is a cliche, but only understandable if you have read the book.  It definitely sets up one of the storylines for the next book.  Thom Thorne is reminiscent of  Rebus (doesn't drink as much), and Morse (likes country music instead of opera).  All three like to go their own way and deal with the consequences later.

Fifty years later, a beautiful manuscript is shared

In the summer of 1936 James Agee, freshly out of college and a young staff writer at Fortune magazine, was sent to Alabama on an assignment to write a story about the conditions of tenant farmers. Because Agee’s unconventional approach to the story and his raw and realistic description of the deplorable conditions that these cotton farmers endured, Fortune never published the story. In 1941, Agee took his transcripts and the ideas from the Fortune assignment and published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book that rattled journalistic and literary style. James Agee poet, novelist, journalist, film critic, and social activist, would move on to lead an unorthodox, hard-driving life that would result in an early death at the tender age of 46.

Fifty years after the Fortune assignment, Agee’s original manuscript was uncovered and recently published in Cotton Tenants: Three Families. The story is accompanied by the stark and beautiful photographs by Walker Evans, who was on loan from the Resettlement Administration when he collaborated with Agee.

Agee’s writing and Walkers striking images offer a stunning revelation of three families who struggled to eek out a living in the hard scrabble conditions of the South during the Great Depression. Each chapter of the 224 page book addresses an essential component of life; Business, Shelter, Food, Clothing, Work, Picking Season, Education, Leisure, and Health.  The brief chapter titles suggest that Agee’s attempt was to present a very factual account of these farmers. But, what he did was provide facts that read like poetry. I felt myself drawn back into time and place where I could almost smell the scorched black coffee on the stove, feel the threadbare flours sacks that were reinvented into clothing, and feel the finger-numbing and back-breaking job of picking cotton.

This book is beautifully written and if you have even a glimmer of interest in this time period, I am confident that you will love it. In writing of three tenant families, Agee lifts up their lives and salutes them for living it with strength, integrity and humility.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Man in the Woods

What would you do if you had committed a terrible act, but no one knew, and you probably could get away with it without ever having to tell anyone? Many if not most of us would say that we couldn't live with ourselves, and that the guilt would eat away at us. But what if the terrible act you did was originally prompted by a valid reason, and your motives began as good ones? That complicates things a bit, doesn't it? This is the quandary in which character Paul Phillips finds himself in Scott Spencer's book, Man in the Woods. Paul has an encounter in the woods that haunts him from that day forward. He suffers a double burden with his secret: the fear of discovery and the equally disturbing fear of getting away with his crime. Spencer draws us into Paul's quiet life with his lover Kate and her nine-year-old daughter Ruby in what sounds like a lovely home in upstate New York. We like Paul. He seems to be a kind, thoughtful guy. This makes his struggle all the more tragic. Life is messy indeed. (This is the August book club selection for the Morning Book Club. We'll be discussing it on Friday, August 26, at 9 am. Come and join us!)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Big Brother

Pandora Halfdanarson has had and unusual life.  She grew up with her older brother Edison, much younger sister Solstice and their very famous father, Travis (Halfdanarson) Appaloosa.  Travis was the star of a long- running TV series named "Joint Custody".  The series centers on a dysfunctional family with divorced parents and three children that mirrors the true life of the Haldanarsons almost to a tee.

Edison is a gifted jazz pianist, Solstice is a typical sensitive baby of the family and Pandora is a normal middle child until she fumbles her way into owing a business that makes custom dolls  that has made her independently wealthy.

When older brother Edison needs a place to stay for a couple of months, Pandora is excited because she hasn't seen her brother for several years, but her husband is reluctant.  Imagine Pandora's surprise when she picks Edison up at the airport and learns that he weighs 386 pounds!

Pandora decides she must help her brother because he has no one else in his life.  She takes an apartment with Edison and they both exist on 4 protein powder packets per day.  Read the book to see if Edison looses the weight and gets back to playing jazz, and if Pandora's marriage can survive living away from her reluctant husband.

You'll be surprised by the ending!