Book Review: Morning Glory

Author Sarah Jio takes her readers to a house boat community on Seattle’s Lake Union. Morning Glory was a fun novel for me as I vicariously revisited Lake Union houseboats and a part of Seattle I know so well.

Ada Santorini tries to find a new life after the tragic death of her husband and young daughter. She rents a furnished houseboat and discovers not only a new lifestyle, but an unsolved mystery that occurred a half-century earlier.

The story toggles in first-person accounts between Ada and a former resident of the houseboat, Penny Wentworth, the young wife of an established artist. Ada is intrigued when she discovers an old wooden chest left by Penny. The chest offers just enough clues to keep Ada on track to unravel the mystery of Penny’s disappearance.

Some residents on Boat Street remember Penny, but they are closed-mouth and avoid the subject when Ada asks. Ada and Penny’s stories come full-circle in a surprising revelation.

Sarah Jio is a best-selling author of several books and an acclaimed journalist of major magazines. For more information about the author, visit http://www.sarahjio.com/

Book Review: Finding Dorothy Scott

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Sarah Byrn Rickman has written a captivating, scholarly biography of Dorothy Faeth Scott, the 25th woman to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in November, 1942. Finding Dorothy Scott: Letters of a WASP Pilot is a masterpiece, written by an author who has made a years-long study of these fascinating women who gave so much to our country.

America was at war, in both Europe and the Pacific, and pilots were critically needed for combat. In order to free up the male pilots, civilian women were trained and called into service to deliver liaison and fighter planes from factory to training fields and embarkation bases throughout the continental United States.

Even before the war, many women showed interest in flying and some had even made a living as pilots. As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated with flying and was a regular visitor at the small airport near their hometown of Oroville, Washington. Dorothy Scott graduated from the University of Washington Pilot Training Program, and after joining WAFS had extensive additional training in the various planes being used in combat. Much to their chagrin, the women were only allowed to ferry planes within the United States and Canada, not overseas like their fellow male pilots.

WAFS’ life was not easy. They weren’t always well received and, although they followed military protocol, WAFS were still civilians. They didn’t have the advantages of male military pilots, such as riding back to their base aboard military transport after delivery. The American Red Cross played a significant role in assisting the women pilots with a meal and transportation to civilian airports so they could return to their home base.

In 1943 the name WAFS was changed to WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), which also broadened the scope of their duties. Many graduates of flight school served in different jobs around the country, such as instructors, in addition to ferrying planes. But the women were still considered civilians without the privileges or pay of military pilots. When their unit was disbanded in 1944, many WASP even had to pay their own bus fare home.

The driving forces in this biography are the letters Dorothy wrote to her family during her time of service, letters that surfaced in 2000. These letters give a sense of time, place and mood of the country during these war years. Through her letters, Dorothy’s strong, steady voice relates her struggles, victories and her love of family.

Finding Dorothy Scott is an intriguing study of the life and times of these exceptional women who filled a needed void during World War II. After a long struggle, the WASP were afforded Veteran status in 1977. The biography concludes with news of belated but much-welcomed recognition when, on July 1, 2009, President Obama signed into law a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The description of the ceremony and a joyous reunion serves as a satisfying ending to this extraordinary story.

Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of five previous books about the WASP, the women who flew for the U.S. Army in WWII. To learn more about the author, visit http://sarahbyrnrickman.com

Book Review: Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

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Jass Richards has written a fun, lively collection of dog stories, tied together by Brett, a woman who’s had a hard time hanging on to traditional jobs. She already has two dogs, Kessie and Snookums, and she likes nothing better than to hang out with them. Why not make this interest an enterprise and get paid for something she loves?

Brett easily acquires four regular “customers,” Chum, Hunk, Little Miss, and Spunk, and they rotate their daily activities between going to the beach, dog park, field, or whatever else comes along. And plenty of other things come along.

Jacko won’t leave his property, Carson won’t come into the house, Rosie is a depressed former race dog. Biscuit refuses to go on walks, and Winner, a blue-and-grey Australian shepherd is an over-achieving herder. Amber is a distraught search-and-rescue dog, Toby’s a wall-flower unless he’s wearing his turtle costume. Cookie, a puppy-mill casualty, sees the light of day, probably for the first time in her life. Can Brett and the pack help Bo and his person compete in serious Frisbee competition? And can they help Nisha, a blind lab, swim again?

The author’s descriptions of the various breeds and their problems are poignant and heart-warming. As a dog lover, I enjoyed the stories in Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun and could relate to many of the situations. The main human character, Brett, is funny in a caustic, quirky sort of way, with a heart for dogs in need and a propensity for knowing how to have fun with them.

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.jassrichards.com/

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed

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Khaled Hosseini’s sweeping novel, And the Mountains Echoed, captivated me with its powerful prose and layered, complex plot.

Abdullah, ten, accompanies his father as they walk to Kabul, Afghanistan, pulling his four year-old sister, Pari, in a wagon. The father’s poverty necessitates selling his daughter to a childless wealthy couple, an arrangement made by their valet, the father’s brother. Abdullah is heart broken to lose his beloved little sister and hopes some day to be reunited with her.

The little girl’s new mother, vivacious Nila and much older father, Suleiman Wahdati, give their only child all the advantages money can buy. When Suleiman suffers a stroke, Nila takes her daughter to live in France.

Pari often feels there is something missing in her life, an emptiness, but can never quite grasp the mystery. War rages in Afghanistan; the Taliban and Russians play their part, but the story is about the people affected by war, by wrong choices, by their own humanness.

The story takes place over a 50-year period, beginning 1952. At times I was confused by a newly introduced character, but eventually realized its significance to the basic story of loss and separation.

I found the ending a revelation as Hosseini brings this complex tale to its conclusion. Hosseini’s characters are vivid, his descriptions of the various countrysides—Afghanistan, France, Greece, and the United States—and their cultural differences, realistic.

Book Review: Sticks, Stones & Songs: The Corey Story

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Eleanor Corey, the seventh child of ten children, has written a remarkable family history of the Corey family who lived on the Olympic Peninsula in rural Washington State.

Arthur Corey, a preacher, paid $28, the amount of over-due taxes, for an old drafty grange hall he converted into a home. The year was 1937, toward the end of the Depression, and times were tough. He moved his wife, Margaret, and three daughters into the old derelict building situated on rough acreage, and they did what they could to make it into a home, a home without insulated walls, or running water, and with an outside toilet where catalogs were used instead of toilet paper. Despite these hardships, it was a home of love and unbridled faith.

The story takes us through the pains of poverty in terms of money, such as subsisting on canned green beans three days in a row, but also on the richness of accomplishment through faith and hard work. Clothes were made from the material gleaned from missionary barrels, food often received as charity, tools fashioned from bits and pieces. Nevertheless, the Coreys were rich in their faith, in their love for one another, and in their music. Gradually their living conditions improved, the land became bountiful through the family’s grinding toil, most often accompanied by singing.

Through their hard work and dedication, the children became resourceful, leaders of their classes at school, involved in community musical activities, and generous with their time and talents. Their father’s powerful faith and their mother’s constant love and attention instilled in the family the lessons of sharing and serving.

Sticks, Stones & Songs: The Corey Story is an inspiring, well-written account scanning from a 1937 bare-bones beginning to a glorious 1979 family reunion that brought members scattered from six countries, many serving in humanitarian projects, and ending with a 2014 epilogue. I feel enriched having read about the Coreys and I highly recommend this heart-warming family history.

To learn more about the author, visit  http://www.eleanorcorey.com

Book Review: Becoming Clementine

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Jennifer Niven has written a third novel in her Velva Jean series, Becoming Clementine. As a WASP flyer during World War II, Velva Jean flies a B-17 Flying Fortress to Britain. After the delivery she volunteers to co-pilot a B-24 Liberator carrying special agents to their drop spot in Normandy, France. Besides wanting the experience of additional flying, Velva Jean has a personal mission to find her brother, a pilot who is missing in action.

The B-24 is shot down and only Velva Jean and five agents survive. Although she’s considered a nuisance, she tags along with the five, much to their agitation. Eventually she becomes one of them, a spy with the Resistance and is given the name Clementine Roux.

Clementine’s grit becomes a necessary ingredient to her survival as she encounters cruelty dealt by invading Germans. Clementine and the members of the team work toward their assigned goal to capture an operative known only as “Swan.” All the while she searches for her brother.

Although some of the situations are a bit far-fetched, I enjoyed this book. For one thing, I find the subject of the WASP’s (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of special interest. These brave women did our country a great service, but met with little appreciation and even sabotage by fellow male pilots. I also found the references to French resistance fascinating, and admire the courage and sacrifice required to regain their country from German occupation. Clementine spends some time in prison and, again, learning of those conditions reinforces the atrocities of war.

Despite the gim subject, I enjoyed the humor in Becoming Clementine and the main character’s spunk. It’s hard to imagine the hardships of war, the loss of life, the lack of basic necessities, and the hopelessness of regaining a normal life. Jennifer Niven does a good job of capturing war-time conditions.

To learn more about the author, visit http://www.jenniferniven.com/

Book Review: One Who Loves

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A captivating read, One Who Loves by Toni Fuhrman features complex and believable characters. The novel provides a refreshing look at ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances.

Jon is the first person Liz meets at Bo House, a residence for university students in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is immediately attracted to him, but once Jon meets another newcomer, Tess, Jon and Tess become a “couple.” Although Liz and Tess are friends, they have opposite personalities. Liz is cautious, carefully plans her life, and finishes what she starts. Tess has a flair for life and intends to live it to the fullest. Liz dates Patrick, a pre-med student, but her love for Jon secretly smolders in her heart.

The two couples remain friends. Liz and Patrick marry, as do Tess and Jon. Their lives evolve over a 20-year period as they experience love, anger, triumph and disappointments. As the two couples have children, go on vacations together, live their day-to-day lives, the reader experiences a rich texture of their different personalities. Through it all, Liz carries in her heart a love for Jon, though she performs her responsibilities as a loving wife and mother. Tess remains flamboyant, bringing vivid color and eloquence to everyone and everything she encounters.

When tragedy strikes, strength of character is shown, along with weakness and denial.

Although an accomplished writer of poetry, essays and technical articles, One Who Loves is Toni Fuhrman’s first-published novel. The novel takes place in Michigan. where Fuhrman spent most of her adult life. This excellent novel is currently available as an ebook, but soon may be published by New Libri Press in trade paperback..

Book Review: She’s Come Undone

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Wally Lamb has an uncanny sense of what goes through the female mind. She’s Come Undone covers Dolores Price’s life from age 4 to 40. When Dolores is 4, her family receives a television as a gift from her father’s employer. Television becomes a core part of Dolores’s life and paves the way toward viewing the world through the lens of television fantasy.

When her parents’ marriage ends, Dolores’s mother has a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. Dolores moves to her grandmother’s house in another city. The grandmother constantly complains, watches television endlessly, and has no concept about Dolores’s needs.

The mother is discharged and joins Dolores at Grandma’s house. Neither her mother nor grandmother has a clue about raising a child. Junk food was always available and no encouragement given to this young girl to do something worthwhile with her time. Dolores has no friends, does not participate academically or socially at school. She steadily gains weight, reaching an enormous two hundred fifty-seven pounds.

She’s Come Undone covers a realm of obesity, rape, abortion, mental illness, and deceit, but it is also about love, understanding and hope. Despite the novel’s grim subject matter, the story is told with humor. The novel reads like an autobiography and every once in awhile I reminded myself that the author was a man, a man of extraordinary insights.

This novel changed my way of thinking about obesity, about why people behave in destructive ways, and the awful consequences of inappropriate guilt. This book is not for everyone. Tender souls need not bother. But I value this experience, this look at another side of life.

Book Review: That Went By Fast

That Went by FastFrank White wrote a remarkable autobiography, That Went by Fast: My First Hundred Years. A Canadian born in 1914, White spins a lively, event-filled story. His life was far from ideal or genteel–it was full of hard work, grit and the kind of knowledge you learn the hard way.

When his mother is widowed, White, still a young boy, works to help the family. By age thirteen he has two professions: butcher and truck driver. He marries Kay when he’s 25 and soon goes into the logging business.

White describes the early days of British Columbia’s gyppo logging, and his descriptions are harrowing. Raising a family in logging camps, learning various types of logging, moving logs on water, surviving logging camps in the dead of winter—the stories of sheer survival are incredible.

As his family grows, White becomes owner of a gas station in Pender Harbour, B.C. which proves to be non-stop work and worry. They ride the tide of 1970s hippies which causes a lot of local friction. In White’s view, while the hippies seems hopelessly inept, many of them find their way into worthy occupations. After several years, the Whites sell the garage and White travels first to Alaska, and then eventually abroad. Typical of White, he travels the back roads, sees the countries and people with fresh inquisitive eyes, always open to learning new ways.

White has a piercingly honest way of describing people, situations and places. He’s a tough man with low tolerance of flakiness and frills. I loved this book, the honesty of living a full life, of owning up to wrong-doing and living with regrets, but generally attempting to do the right thing. He’s lived from the horse-and-buggy days to jet travel, from scratching notes on paper to computers. White says “living to the age of one hundred is not all it’s cracked up to be, but it has some pluses.” He’s taken it all in and put his own mark on it. It’s an amazing story.

Book Review: Being Mortal

Being Mortal_Physician Atul Gawande has written a powerful, moving book on aging and death. Being Mortal provides a logical, clear-eyed view of dying and what is important.

Gawande emphasizes the importance of questions we ask someone whose death is in the near future. Ask “If time becomes short, what is most important to you?” Most people will want to be relieved of pain, to be among those they love, and at peace. Many doctors tend to try to prolong life, even though life has ceased to be one of quality. Studies have shown that people in hospice, where patients are kept comfortable and without extensive treatment, live longer and happier.

Older patients and their families often feel desperate in the face of terminal illnesses; they’ll try anything to prolong life, whatever the improbability, the misery, or the cost. Instead, we should consider how to face mortality and preserve the essence of a meaningful life. When we ask our loved ones what they want, what is most important, what are their worries, the answers and the steps to be taken become clear.

As health conditions worsen, mounting crises often create a series of temporary rescues. Gawande terms this ODTAA, One Damn Thing After Another. Perhaps a better way to face these crises is to explore the idea of living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later.

The science of medicine is to enable well-being. Whenever serious illness or injury strikes, vital questions should be asked: What is your understanding of this condition and the likely outcome? What trade-offs are you willing or not willing to make? Being Mortal gives readers the means and confidence to raise and answer these questions.

Although the subject matter is serious, the book is written in an encouraging, inspiring way, sometimes even with humor. Atul Gawande has left a lasting impression on how I look at terminal illness and the importance of preparedness. Being Mortal is a worthy addition to our personal library.