Book Review: Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Book review

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Catapult, 2016

Oh, what a surprise I discovered when I opened up this book. Such a slim novel can be deceptive; yes, Margaret the First is a fast read but readers will be left with a swirling paradise of thoughts, emotions and impressions after reaching the end.

This is all about Margaret Cavendish, a duchess who was the first woman in England to dare to write for publication rather than some soggy byproduct of bored days.

Along the way, readers peek into her marriage, her life, the disruptions she suffered due to various events, and her own disruptive activities that both made her more famous (much like Lady Gaga) and made her the focus of ire.

Of course, simply daring to write, burdened as she was with the disorder of having been born female, was disruptive enough. These various disruptions are mirrored in a prose style that is staccato and brief yet never slim with the impact.

Go out and get a copy of this novel right now. You can’t miss this one if you care one bit about quality prose, about women, or about the history of literature and the impact it can have on society.

For insight–and more than a few laughs–about literature and the writing industry today, including where women and other underrepresented voices stand, grab a copy of Writing While Female or Black or Gay. 

Or, if your tastes purely desire fiction, find another strong female protagonist in Beloved: A Sensual Noir Thriller. 

5 stars!

I received a copy from the publisher in order to write this review.

Book Review: The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

April 2016 Random House Children’s Books

OK, all you YA fans, listen up because this book review is for The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas…and it’s one you’ll want to read.

The teaser line on the front cover reads, Everyone has something to hide. The truth is that everyone in this novel is hiding something, including Tessa, the main character.

When she and her friend Callie were young, they were called to testify against a man charged with killing a young woman. There had been a series of deaths in the area, all done in the same method…so they had been murdered by a serial killer.

But both Tessa and Callie harbor secrets about what they saw, and what they did later. Now their lives have supposedly moved on but both are trapped in that night and the aftermath. Until Tessa comes back to say goodbye to her dying father, who is in jail for unrelated crimes, it seems that they will continue on in that limbo, never fully living but knowing that their secret could destroy what little they have built if it comes out.

Plenty of suspects here, and Tessa is a strong young woman, so she’s not going to allow any of them to pass by without taking action. The book scored points with me on those notes. Still, I thought it would end up as at 4 stars…well written and interesting but nothing truly special.

Until I hit the part around 80% through the book. Then I went, oh, wow! I can’t tell you what happens then but it’s a twist I never saw coming. And with that, the book shot from 4 to 5 stars.

If you like books with plenty of twists and lots of elements flying around, try Reparation, in which a young man must save his sister and his new lover from a cult.

5 stars!

I was given a copy by the publisher in order to write this reviews.

Book Review: Zack Delacruz–Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

Book review

Zack Delacruz #1: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

Sterling Children’s, 2015

Well, this was a refreshing change for middle grade fiction. Lots of diverse characters here, and a protagonist with a name that clearly places him away from the standard that is too typical in much of what publishers push on readers. So yay, Zack!

And importantly, this isn’t about a boy or others being bullied due to their race or culture. Instead it’s about what every kid faces. It’s a universal theme that happens to have many non-white characters inside, all of whom are real kids. So another cheer for Zack!

The one issue noted is that, while the book promotes respect for everyone, it actually doesn’t follow that line. The teachers, the adults, are the ones who come under fire, and some of the comments are cruel.

So where is the respect there? Does bullying only apply to kids? If you’re in the corporate culture or you’re not white and you walk down the street, you know that bullies are alive and well in the adult world, too. So the ideology doesn’t track entirely.

Still, a great read with plenty of fun for kids.

Parents and teachers who would like to read up on wisdom that can help them guide their kids should check out Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages from Aboriginal Australia with advice that is as relevant today as it was centuries ago!

And readers who want to understand more about diversity in the publishing industry can check out Writing While Female or Black or Gay.

5 stars!

I was provided with a review copy by the publisher.

Book Review: Super Mind by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.

Book Review

Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.

New York Times bestselling author of Transcendence

Tarcher Perigee, 2016

This book promises everything that TM, or transcendental meditation, can offer: stress relief, more emotional stability, and a better outlook and stronger focus that can enrich a reader’s life.

For the most part, it delivers. It does so by providing an avalanche of information about TM, studies done on practitioners, and a medical perspective that blends the allopathic (the modern style) with traditional medicine. So readers benefit by getting both sides of the picture.

This is much needed today. We’ve gone too far to the extreme of allowing drugs and quick fixes to medicate us into thinking that just because we feel great, we are great or our lives are great. TM can offer the real thing. And Rosenthal is clearly an adherent to that perspective.

There’s not a lot new here in terms of information on TM techniques. But the studies that back up the process are great, and should help folks who are wary of false claims and herbal medicines, yoga teachers, and other alternative claims that don’t back up their systems with facts.

If you’re new to TM or want to explore the depths of the science backing it up, this book is a must read.

For another in-depth look at traditional wisdom and how it can enrich modern lives, try Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages From Aboriginal Australia

4 stars.

I received a copy from the publisher in order to write this review.

Book Review: Fight Song by Joshua Mohr

Book Review

Fight Song by Joshua Mohr

Soft Skull Press, 2013

Satire is one of those things that is insanely difficult to do. Not only does the author have to make the reader laugh, they also have to leave readers with something more than just the fast chuckle or lingering giggle. A strong satire will take down our cultural mores, poke holes in what we believe to be right, and provide a sense of satisfaction at the end of the work.

Fight Song does all this in a nearly flawless manner. The main character’s plight could degenerate into something macabre or even just depressing. But in Mohr’s hands, the story ramps ever upward into stronger absurdity and greater fun.

Not to be missed!

For a different type of work that will make you laugh out loud while tackling today’s cultural mores and the fallout of them, try Writing While Female or Black or Gay. 

5 stars!

Book Review: Women Writers in the Twenty-First Century by Dr. Laurie Garrison

Book review: Women Writers in the Twenty-First Century: How We Can Make Online Learning, Marketing and Publishing Work For Us by Dr. Laurie Garrison

Looking for Xanadu, 2016

The author calls this work her manifesto both because she operates the website Looking For Xanadu and because of her other efforts to support female writers in a time when the inequality of publishing is finally being targeted on a widespread basis.

As the subtitle promises, the book covers quite a bit of ground. After presenting the history of female authors, Garrison considers the status of women writing today.

“Unfortunately,” she writes, “the culture on the outside [of academia] has not moved in tandem with the ideals set in the much more PC worlds of universities.”

This has left women with few truly open channels through which to achieve publication. And be clear that when we talk about publishing, we are not speaking about fame or money or copies sold.

Publishing has long been about being heard, about bringing a message or a concept or an idea to the wider world. When over half the world’s population is gagged simply because of their gender, literature does not provide a truly diverse view of the world…and important voices remain unheard.

Garrison hopes to balance the scales a bit by helping female writers understand how to utilize online tools to broadcast their messages. In brief yet on-target sections, she lays out some of the ways authors can learn, innovate, and do more with and inside the accessible digital realm.

And since the same obstacles that face female authors also gag the voices of writers of color, LGBT authors, and even white males who happen to give female protagonists the spotlight, a wide variety of individuals can find assistance in these pages.

I was provided with a copy of the book so that I could write this review.

5 stars!

For a deep look inside the state of diversity in publishing today, try Writing While Female or Black or Gay: Diverse Voices in Publishing. 

Book Review: As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner

March 2016 Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown

Ah, families. They can be such a joy and such a torment. But for one family, a single day in 1948 changes all their lives forever.

In that moment, Davy, just a little boy, is killed in an accident by the ice cream man. What came before that day and what came after is told by Molly, Davy’s older sister.

It all started the way their summer vacations usually did. They opened up the house in the small Jewish enclave and then began their usual summer rituals…dips in the ocean, running along the beach, preparing the meal for Shabbos.

This particular summer, new things occur. Romances are begun and turn into something more serious than a summer fling. The children begin to mature, and realize things about their parents that had stayed hidden to them before.

Then, after the death, their lives continue. Always the family rotates back to the summer home, always they work to deal with their individual grief and the heavy burdens of their individual guilt.

The development of each character and the ways their lives intertwine are deeply considered in this novel. The voice, which has more of a memoir tone, becomes a bit wearying at times; the voice too often allows the mundanely of the dialog to overwhelm the straightforward narrative.

But for a certain type of reader, the page will fly along. The only pauses will occur when the reader wants to savor some moment in the family…which is often. Overall a strong novel that deals with a lot of complexities in an interesting way.

4 stars!

Interested in a novel about adult sibling relationships? Try Reparation: A Novel of Love, Devotion and Danger. A young Lakota Sioux man must save his sister and his lover from a peyote cult before the minister enacts a mass murder. 4.8 star average on Amazon!