Book Review: Unsaid

Neil Abramson’s poignant novel, Unsaid, is told by Helena Colden, 37, a veterinarian who recently died of cancer. Her lawyer husband, David, is left with the care of his wife’s animals: three dogs, six cats, two horses and a pig. The animals were her passion, but David feels an obligation to carry on with their care.

Jaycee, a friend and colleague of Helena’s, asks David to defend her and Cindy, a chimpanzee, against the Center for Advanced Primate Studies. Jaycee has taught the chimp how to communicate through sign language and other aids. The Center feels the study has failed and plans to return Cindy to the primate population for other experimental work, likely to test human diseases.

Still grieving, David is overwhelmed with obligations to his law practice, running the household, and now being asked to take on a questionable case of animal rights. Out of respect for Helena, he consents to defend Jaycee and the chimp, Cindy.

This story is told from an interesting point of view, that of a deceased person who can be everywhere at once, one who sees and hears all.

This novel touched my heart with the many animal scenes, particularly those with a little autistic boy, the son of David’s newly acquired housekeeper. If you are an animal lover, this is a book for you. I have had and loved animals all my life and this book was balm for my soul. I thoroughly enjoyed Unsaid and highly recommend it.

Book Review: The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel

Patricia Harman’s wit and wisdom shine through with this Great Depression era novel that takes place in hard-hit West Virginia.

Nurse Becky Myers finds herself the caretaker of Dr. Isaac Blum, a doctor she’s worked with for seven years. When the doctor’s wife dies a tragic death, he goes into a catatonic state, unable to speak or take care of himself. His family will not take responsibility for him and Becky sees no alternative but to care for him herself. Now unemployed, she soon runs out of money and decides they should go to his home in Liberty where at least they’d have a house to live in. When she finds his home has been sold for back taxes, they’re stranded with very little money and no place to stay.

Fortunately, an old friend, Patience Hester, the midwife for Hope River, and her husband Daniel, a veterinarian, let Becky and Isaac stay in their old abandoned house. Although Becky is a trained nurse, she is not comfortable assisting at childbirth, but when Patience becomes ill, Becky must take over her friend’s midwife’s duties. Because he can’t be left alone, she takes Dr. Blum with her. It’s not ideal, but at least they’re not starving.

Money is scarce and more often than not midwifery is paid with a chicken or something from the garden. For awhile Becky delivers groceries for a bit of income, but when that position dries up, she applies and is given a job at a nearby CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp.

The Reluctant Midwife is an engaging, well-told story. The author, herself a midwife, writes of childbirth with expertise. She paints a bleak picture of the Depression era, but also praises the way people pulled together. The relationship between Becky and Isaac develops in a surprising way. I found the CCC details fascinating and admire the significant contribution they made at a time when living conditions were so desperate for so many.

Book Review: Row for Freedom: Crossing an Ocean in Search of Hope

Julia Immonen’s memoir (written with Craig Borlase), Row for Freedom: Crossing an Ocean in Search of Hope, is a prime example of grit, determination and spirit offered for a worthy cause. When the author learns of the horror of human trafficking, she is determined to raise awareness of modern-day slavery.

Julia and four other women pooled their energy and resources to row across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Barbados. After extensive preparation, they set out to row 45 days to cross 3,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

For six and a half weeks this group of women lived in a 29-foot boat, an amazingly small boat to carry 5 people. Below decks were 2 small cabins–each about the size and shape of a coffin. Their sparse belongings were stowed in tiny cubby holes. The crew rowed around the clock in two-hour shifts. It was exhausting, demanding work, and at one time or another all the women suffered from debilitating seasickness, chafing made worse by stinging salt water, sore wrists, painful ankles from the foot slides, and aching hamstrings. Julia handled the pain and discomfort by thinking of the estimated 27-million people trapped in modern day slavery. She rowed for them.

On the boat, one system after another failed, beginning on the second day when the battery tester failed, followed by almost daily failures of other systems including the desalinator used to convert salt water to fresh. Even the boat itself developed tiny holes that had to be repaired at sea.

They completed what they set out to do: spread the word about the horror of human trafficking, establish a new Guinness World Record for the first female crew of five to row an ocean. One of the crew was the first Irish woman ever to have rowed the Atlantic, and Immonen was the first Finn ever to have rowed an ocean. Although she realizes that their actions were infinitesimal in the face of the world-wide problem of trafficking, the author is comforted by a quote from Mother Teresa: “do small things with great love.”

Before their epic journey, Julia worked in the television industry putting together television programs. She had the know-how and skills for effective media. Now that knowledge would be put to work with live interviews to call attention to their feat and the reason behind it–making the world aware of human trafficking.

Row for Freedom is an exciting, worthwhile read. The author’s determination
and the team’s endurance is impressive. The physical hardships, the separation from families, the endless challenges of the boat’s integrity–all make this a worthy and memorial book.

To learn more about the author and her cause, visit www.sportforfreedom.org/

Book Review: A Place for Mei Lin

Harlan Hague has written an intriguing historical fiction, A Place for Mei Lin, set in America’s Northwest in the early 20th century.

At one time Caleb Willis was blissfully happy with his wife and two children, but when his family all tragically died, he was without purpose, not caring what happened to him. He drifts from Virginia and settles in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains area and sets up a gold dredging operation near Stanley. On a trip to town, he encounters a young Chinese woman, Mei Lin, who had been sold and pressed into service in a brothel. He witnesses abuse to the woman and comes to her rescue.

Not knowing what else to do, he takes her to his cabin. Their relationship grows, but all the while Caleb, still mourning his family, resists acknowledging his feelings toward his young house guest. Mei Lin, on the other hand, feels a gratitude that turns into love toward Caleb. She’s a strong, capable woman who strives to prove her worth.

A Place for Mei Lin is an interesting book on many levels. I have spent quite a bit of time in the Stanley, Idaho area and have seen the old gold-mining dredges and technology described in the book. The author vividly describes the rugged Sawtooth area, giving the novel a strong sense of place. The tragic plight of Chinese during this time is a reminder of our country’s bigotry toward a race of people once their services are no longer needed. And lastly, the novel is a tender love story that at first is one-sided, but soon develops, only to be threatened by forces beyond their control.

This is a novel worth your time, written by a skilled story-teller. A Place for Mei Lin is available in print, ebook and audio formats. To learn more about Harlan Hague, visit http://harlanhague.us/

Book Review: Bone Horses

Lesley Poling-Kempes’ Bone Horses captured my rapt attention with vivid scenes of New Mexico’s high desert country, a compelling blend of people, and a mystery line that weaves its way through folk lore and gritty realism. It’s no surprise that the novel is the recipient of four literary awards.

New York school teacher Charlotte Lambert is a serious, cautious woman, not inclined toward last-minute or brash actions. After attending a conference in Sante Fe, she decides to see the place where many years before her beloved late grandfather, a paleontologist, discovered an important fossil site. It is also the place of her mother’s sudden, violent death. She rents a car, assuring herself that she can visit the site near the dusty little town of Agua Dulce, return to the hotel for the final conference banquet, then catch her flight home the next morning.

The area Charlotte seeks is remote, raw wilderness, with heat so intense she can hardly breathe. Attempting to shoo a raven from her windshield, she hits a rock, high- centering the car. She has no choice but to start walking, walking to a new life with people of a wide mix of Hispanic, Apache, Anglo and combinations of all three, people who have their own mysteries. Some are welcoming, some bear grudges.

Charlotte learns about her mother’s death and the mystery surrounding it. She learns the ways of loyalty that knit together an extended family, land, and ancestors. She finds romance and contentment. But she also finds fear when old truths surface.

Bone Horses is a complex, magical mystery, full of wisdom and legends. Lesley Poling-Kempes has crafted a memorable, soul-searching story.

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.lesleypoling-kempes.net/

Book Review: A Home in America: A Volga German Story

A Home in America: A Volga German Story by Eunice Boeve, though listed as a Children’s/Young Adult book, would be of interest to readers of all ages. This work of fiction that takes place in 1892 captivated me as I learned about a whole segment of people I hadn’t previously known.

Although the book is primarily about the Mueller family as seen through the eyes of Eva Maria, age twelve, it delves into the Volga German people who, in the mid-1700’s, settled in Russia’s Volga River area to escape war-torn Germany and the unreasonable demands of the ruling class. Contrary to promises made to them by Russia, the Volga River area was devoid of houses, horses or plows. But there was land, and the Germans carved out a life on the Russian plains. They remained staunchly German, did not speak the Russian language, did not intermarry, and clung to their own customs and faith.

When Russia began imposing mandatory military service on all males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, Eva’s parents made the decision to emigrate to America. If they remained in Russia, her father and older brother would likely be conscripted into a service for which they felt no loyalty.

Now in 1892, the family— father, stepmother, two older brothers, a baby sister, and Eva — is leaving the only home they have ever known. One of Eva’s concerns is leaving her great-grandmother, the woman who was like a mother to her, since her real mother passed away giving birth to Eva. But her great-grandmother is 92, blind and frail.

They have a cousin in America, in Kansas, and he helps them financially and promises to assist them when they arrive.

Their journey to the Baltic Sea is a grueling series of crowded, dirty trains and finally the extreme discomforts of riding third class in the bowels of a ship bound for America. Arriving in New York, they endure the immigration procedures at Ellis Island, and finally take another train to Kansas where they are welcomed by their cousin.

The rest of the story concentrates on their first year in America, living on a farm near Herzog, Kansas, a Volga-German community with other predominately Volga residents. The newcomers are challenged with the new language and new customs.

A Home in America is a heart-warming story with the strong loyalty of family uppermost. I gained renewed respect for America’s early settlers and with the importance of working together for a common good.

Book Review: Dolet

Author Florence Byham Weinburg has created a work of fiction based on the actual life of Etienne Dolet, a French scholar, translator and printer, filling in the gaps of the historical record as plausibly as possible. Dolet is a remarkable, thoroughly researched novel.

The novel begins in Toulouse, France with Dolet witnessing the horrific sight of his friend, charged with heresy, being burned at the stake.

Etienne Dolet, born 1509 in Orleans, France, educated under a series of scholars and later as a university law student, was known for his extensive Latin knowledge and writings. His witty and often cutting political remarks resulted in many enemies, though he also had powerful friends. He often suddenly left an area as a wanted man, or at least under grave suspicion. Often protected and financially supported by friends, he found employment using his extensive knowledge and oratory proficiency.

Dolet became a skilled printer, but his own books were criticized by the Catholic Church for their content. Dolet defends his position believing that his writing represented the true message of Christianity.

During his lifetime, Dolet spent a considerable amount of time in prison either defending himself against a trumped-up murder charge, which was actually self-defense, or because of suspicion by the French Inquisition that he was an atheist, charges made more serious because of his published books. Dolet stood fast on his efforts to reform abuses of the Church, not destroy her. He died a tragic death in 1546 on his 37th birthday.

Dolet is a fascinating read. Florence Byham Weinburg’s research is impressive as she follows the short life and times of this controversial figure. To learn more about the author, visit http://florenceweinberg.com/

Book Review: Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington

Dan A. Nelson’s practical hiking guide, Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington, includes necessary information to ensure satisfaction for dog owners and their dogs while enjoying hikes in Western Washington.

Although dogs aren’t allowed on national park or monument trails, there are plenty of wonderful hikes to enjoy in Western Washington. In this guidebook, Nelson describes 85 hikes, complete with quick references for distance round trip, difficulty on a scale of one to five, highest elevation point, elevation gain, best season, map, contact information and GPS coordinates, followed by detailed descriptions of the individual hikes.

In addition to specific destinations, at the beginning of the book Nelson goes into some detail about hiking with a dog in general, which I found particularly interesting. In the “Getting Ready” section, Nelson emphasizes the importance of good training, including use of a leash on the trail. Permits and regulations must be obeyed, not only for human and dog safety, but for the sake of the environment.

“Leave No Trace” is discussed in detail and encompasses much more than hauling your own garbage out. It means camp a distance away from a water source such as a lake or stream, not wash in the water, but collect water in a container and take it back to camp. Camp on hard ground so you won’t trample grass or fragile vegetation. Nelson gives many more examples of ways to keep the wilderness intact by leaving no trace.

The trail etiquette section was an eye-opener for me. For instance, when dog owners meet any other trail users, dog and owner must yield the right-of-way, stepping well clear of the trail to allow the other users to pass without worrying about “getting sniffed.” Another: When a dog meets a horse, the dog owner must yield the trail and ensure the dog remains calm. Also, stay within view so that the horse isn’t suddenly spooked when he sees the dog.

Another rule of etiquette I learned is that when hikers meet other hikers, the group heading uphill has the right-of-way. There are many more important points the author makes, points that make sense once the reasons are explained.

Best Hikes with Dogs: Western Washington is a valuable reference for hikers with dogs, or even without dogs. Dan Nelson is the author of several guidebooks, all published by The Mountaineer Books.

Two Memoirs by John W. Evans

John and Katie Evans were again living and working abroad, this time in Romania. They met while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh from 2000 to 2002.

John, 29, a writer, and Katie, 30, who worked in Bucharest leading an educational effort on HIV/AIDS and family violence prevention, joined friends on a hike in the Carpathian Mountains on June 23, 2007. They had planned to stay in a hostel near Bucharest for the night, but upon arrival found there were no rooms available. Although it was nearing evening and darkness, they felt there would be time to hike to the next hostel, about a mile away. On the way, the group became separated. John ended up with the faster group, anxious to get to the hostel while rooms were still available. Katie, with the slower group, nursed a sore ankle.

When he approached a stream, John decided to wait for the slower group to help them across, telling the others to go ahead and secure their rooms. When Katie’s group didn’t come, he circled back, but at first couldn’t find them. He heard screaming and found Katie, pinned down by a large brown bear.

Young Widower is the tragic story of this horrendous event and the aftermath of dealing with overpowering grief. The story goes back in time to their earlier years, their families, and day-to-day lives, allowing the reader to know those involved. Evans’ description of coping with his great loss, plus the horrific memory of witnessing and hearing his wife’s final moments is deeply moving.

Young Widower is an extraordinary read, both poignant and revealing about the human spirit.

 

John W. Evans’ Should I Still Wish is a sequel to his first memoir, Young Widower. In the first book, Evans tells the horrific story of his wife Katie being mauled to death by a brown bear in Romania, and his subsequent grief, guilt and adjustment.

In Should I Still Wish Evans renews a friendship with Cait, whom he also met ten years earlier while serving with the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. The memoir begins one year after the violent death of his first wife.

John and Cait eventually marry and have three sons. The author uses dreams, memories, and second-person accounts akin to letters to his first son and to his deceased wife, to share his struggle through the various stages of grief and recovery. He writes of his desire to make peace with the natural world again, and to acknowledge life’s abundant joys.

Should I Still Wish is a moving story of second chances and daring to love again. Evans is an excellent writer who has a talent for describing intricate details of emotions and scenes. He teaches creative writing at Stanford University. To learn more about John W. Evans, visit https://johnwevans.com/author/

Book Review: The Blues

Hang on to your cowboy hat for this action-packed contemporary western novel by Susie Drougas.

When Attorney Dusty Rose accepts a wrongful death case, he’s excited that he can combine business with pleasure since the location of the incident is the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. Together with his private investigator, Mike, who also happens to be Dusty’s riding side-kick, they load up the horse trailer and drive from the greater Seattle area to where the death occurred.

The case involves a couple who had made arrangements with an outfitter to celebrate their anniversary by taking a picnic lunch to the peak of the Eagle Cap. From their base camp, they rode horses as far as they could, but then planned to hike the last 500 feet to the peak. During this stretch of the trip, the woman fell to her instant death. The widowed husband was now suing the outfitter for wrongful death.

On the way to meet the outfitter and investigate the scene, Dusty and Mike stop at a bar for dinner, the only place open at that time of night. They encounter a beautiful young woman, Stevie, and there is an instant attraction between her and Dusty. It’s a regrettable encounter because Dusty already has a wonderful woman in his life, a fellow lawyer, and he instantly regrets his lapse in good judgement. But the damage is done.

The next day Dusty and Mike talk to the outfitter and ride their horses, then hike, to the scene of the accident. Later, they talk to the widowed husband, but are puzzled by the conflicts and inconsistencies of the various stories.

The Blues, a name which refers to a location in the book, is rich in landscape descriptions and of wilderness horseback riding. As a real-life court reporter, the author also exhibits professional knowledge of legal procedures, which add significantly to the realism of the story.

The Blues is the fourth of the Dusty Rose Series. To learn more about the preceding novels and the author, visit http://www.susiedrougas.com/.