Posts from the ‘book review’ Category

BOOK REVIEW: DEAR HOMEFOLKS

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BOOK REVIEW:
DEAR HOMEFOLKS
By Candace Simar
Published by River Place Press
Of Aitkin, Minnesota
ISBN 978-0-9989116-2-5
195 pages

If this collection of short stories and poems were a restaurant, it would get five stars for its offerings.

Candace Simar provides a large menu of literary tastes in DEAR HOMEFOLKS. There are longer stories several pages long for the larger appetite. There are shorter stories of just a few pages to cleanse the reader’s palette. Is gourmet more to your liking? There’s some of that, but then there’s some very tasty ‘meat and potatoes’ stories, too. Do you want some dessert? There are humorous accounts as well.

Candace Simar draws from several sources for DEAR HOMEFOLKS. She gives us a taste of her understanding of the pioneer prairie days of Minnesota that you may have read in her Fort Abercrombie books. There are testaments to her Scandinavian heritage. There are some touching memoir-type moments, as the reader gets to meet the real Candace Simar as she reveals herself in a story or two about her own life experiences. There is a bit of a follow-up (maybe you could call it a semi-sequel) to one of her later books, SHELTERBELTS, in which we meet one of the characters of that book as he struggles to maintain his farm.

As for the poems, they are often paired with one of the stories – and the pairing reinforces both the story and the poem. You’ll find this especially true in the memoir section of the book.

Yes, there are sections; four of them. Each section is set off by a page with a short paragraph or two from the author, where she offers an introduction of sorts to each section. This lends yet another angle of getting to know the author in a personal way.

The tone throughout the book, like the first paragraph mentions, is a grand taste of Candace Simar’s writing. The vocabulary is accessible to all, the style is warm. The storytelling offers a spectrum of emotions from sadness to some truly happy and joyous pronouncements.

Candace Simar’s DEAR HOMEFOLKS would be a solid addition to the bookcase at home.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS The Life and Art of John James Audubon

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BOOK REVIEW:
THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS
The Life and Art of John James Audubon
Juvenile Nonfiction by Nancy Plain
Published by University of Nebraska Press
91 Pages, followed by an appendix of notes, glossary and index
ISBN 978-9-8032-4884-7

John James Audubon – the boring bird man, right?

In Nancy Plain’s well -researched book, the reader finds out that Audubon was much more than that boring birdman. John James Audubon’s life crossed international borders, reached levels of academic achievement on his own, enjoyed his family, and truly experienced the American pioneer years as they grew from its very rugged beginnings in the early 1800s until his death in 1851. He influenced the entire world of sciences with his observations, thoughts, and artwork.

The reader meets the young James in his birthplace of Haiti. Then off he goes to France, then to America, where he travels the outback of the new country – and his artwork brings him back to the larger cities in search of a publisher for his work – and even to England for more publishing opportunities before he returns home to an America that finally recognized his work for the excellence it held.

Ms. Plain takes us on the journeys that Audubon underwent, as he observed new species, as he added to the knowledge of already known birds. These trips included the frontiers of Kentucky, the bayous of Louisiana, and the far reaches of the remote north end of the Missouri River. Audubon meets a variety of folks on his travels – the roughnecks in the local taverns, other naturalists who question his skills and abilities, and some Native Americans, who leave quite an impression on the artist/scientist.

Ms. Plain includes a large selection of the artwork of Audubon – from the smallest sparrow to the egrets and eagles. These pictures became the basis of the definitive book on the birds of America – and that book and those colorful drawings are still the standard of anyone who calls himself a ‘naturalist’, as Audubon often chose to call himself.

The book is billed for juveniles – starting with ten-year-old readers. Even with the great amount of illustrations, the text is extensive and the vocabulary is not for the beginning reader. The color illustrations are interesting to explore for the features of the bird and the habitat that is favored by that bird. Some of the illustrations are quite graphic when it came to the meat eating birds – causing controversy even when they first appeared in print. To add to the bird art, there are also some pictures of John James Audubon himself, and of some of the homes he lived in. Maps of the Audubon excursions would have been a good plus to include – perhaps such will show up in future editions of the book.

There is a strong historical value in this book for the young reader seeking to learn more about the man and his times – not only does Ms. Plain deliver deeper details about Audubon, but she also includes a solid basis of the first half of the 19th century of American History.

You can’t ask for much more.

Book Review: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE: An Unlikely Love Story

HUNDRED MILESBook Review: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE: An Unlikely Love Story
By Elisa Korenne
Published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minnesota
ISBN: 978-1-68201-064-8 (Paperback); 978-1-86201-080-8 (Ebook)
328 pages (Reader’s Guide and an Afterword follow the text)

In her memoir of her transition from Big City Girl to Small Town Citizen, Elisa Korenne describes her presence in central Minnesota as she transplants herself, a musician from New York City looking to improve her songwriting skills, to a small artsy town known as New York Mills, where she finds a new breed of people, one of whom becomes very important to her. It is a struggle in some ways, and a natural flow of her life in other ways. She takes the reader from day one (arriving in New York Mills, Minnesota from New York City, totally throwing anything resembling caution to any kind of wind) to the end of the book, where she finds she has become entirely comfortable in her new self that develops out of her New York Mills experiences.

We follow the love between Elisa Korenne and the man in her life, Chris. The two grow together and grow apart, and back together in ways that every couple faces. This is the ‘city mouse – country mouse’ element that the reader might expect – and the story is totally believable with every stressful moment and every tender scene that the couple shares.

There are other people here as well: her long-time friends in New York, her new friends in New York Mills; all of whom vary between nice, ordinary examples of Americana to eccentric folks formed by their surroundings – and of course, the families of Elisa and Chris. We find the landscapes of both places clearly described, often poetically – the big city has its manicured parks, its fine architecture, its robust and crowded traffic patterns. The small town has its serenity (and the boredom that often comes with it), its simple, slow life pace, and smaller vehicles (canoes and four wheelers) that would be out of place in New York. Ms. Korenne’s descriptions help the reader sense the qualities of both environments in every way possible.

Ms. Korenne’s adventures include outdoorsy tales of canoe trips and watching early morning birds in a field. Switch to the big city, and the reader is taking in the sounds and smells of city traffic – and indoorsy things like coffee at the local diner in the small town, singing for crowds in towns with populations smaller than her apartment building in her New York City days. Her writing for such goings-on include humor and an emotional range of pure joy to loathsome moments of conflict with even those closest to her. Guaranteed laughing moments: a wedding that features a blend of Jewish culture and Lutheran traditions, and an experiment in lost ways to experience adult language. Pieces of drama appear throughout as well – self-revelations, those outdoor adventures, and nasty weather top that list.

There’s a big difference in setting throughout: we find the hard-concrete world of the city, and just a few pages later, we find the hardscrabble existence of families who keep their houses barely tar-papered and sealed against the elements. The common element is Ms. Korenne’s literary vocabulary that keep the reader totally aware of every tree, every animal, every sound, taste and smell, and every twinge in her introspective mind and heart as she evolves into her new self – sometimes willingly, sometimes, not so sure about the whole idea. There’s a delightful, clear style here – literary, yet reader-friendly.

Suffice it to say, Elisa Korenne can verify that one can’t hail a taxi in front of the New York Mills Cenex gas station with a loud two-finger whistle any more than one can drop in on the Hello Deli just off Broadway in New York and order a pastrami on rye with a “Yah, sure, you betcha.” But, in the end, she sure makes her choice clear to the reader as she leads us through the years covering this memoir.

MURDER BOOK by Frank F. Weber – A Review

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MURDER BOOK
By Frank F. Weber
Published by North Star Press
Of St. Cloud, MN
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-1-68201-068-6
263 pages

I live in central Minnesota, where the murder rate is quite low. However, according to author Frank Weber, when there is a murder in that locality, it comes from a dark world steeped in horror, suspense and a good dose of nastiness. Fortunately, the author also blends in some great forensic police work and characters who are believable, no matter what side of the law they favor.

Using actual towns and places (Little Falls, Pierz, Genola and the Black and White Café), we are introduced to a decade of interest in a cold case murder, farm families with ties to success and failure, and secrets that are better left as secrets.

We meet John Frederick, a native of the area, who has become an investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He finds himself back home at the investigation of a missing ten-year-old child, but as he digs into the case, he finds threads to a different (yet very personal) case from ten years back. John is professional in his thinking, but his heart’s memory nearly compromises that work.

We meet Serena Bell, a lady that John knew back in those older times. She has retained her beauty, as well as her friendly ties with John. As they are reunited, other matters surface that she handles sometimes with innocence, sometimes with insecurity.

We meet the mind of a killer who manages to disguise such tendencies with the taciturn manner we have come to know as “Minnesota Nice” when it is to that killer’s advantage.

We meet a squad of criminologists who work together (mostly), finding themselves amid a crime that seems to lead everywhere and nowhere at the same time – or at least in circles.

We meet a team of townspeople as well, who work into the story in clever ways, thanks to the thoughtful writing of Mr. Weber.

The book reads nicely for someone like me who is not a big crime novel fan. Having lived in the area for forty years now, I know the locations and can imagine the surroundings as the events unfold – but I can also assure a new reader that the author writes in such a way that having been in Minnesota is a requirement before enjoying this novel.

The plot moves along quickly – I felt no slacking in the pace of the story, as is so common in some other crime novels I’ve read. At the right times, the suspense and tension ratchets up at a satisfying rate that will increase the reader’s blood pressure and raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck.

This is no pasteurized Saturday afternoon movie or the plotline of a MATLOCK episode. When you page through this one, you will be drawn into an adult world of crime, police work, personal failure and success, and even some passion.

I look forward to more crime novels from Frank Weber.

BOOK REVIEW: WATER IS WATER

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WATER IS WATER
By Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Jason Chin
Published by Roaring Brook Press
(A Division of MacMillan Publishing)
ISBN 978-1-59643-984-9

Science and easy vocabulary are hard to work together. WATER IS WATER by Miranda Paul achieves that partnership on each of the thirty pages in this book. The reader will learn of water and its many forms and uses, each page using no more than a handful of one-syllable words and a few others to dress up the story. After the final page and those few words, the reader has learned a great deal about the world of water in a delightful way that will stay with the reader for a long time. Some of the concepts of water forms can be quite complex, but Ms. Paul, with the use of her words, has brought it into easy grasp for the reader.

The words, in fact, are also part of a song performed by Emily Arrow, available on YOUTUBE at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzJwNGo-7HY.

The illustrations by Jason Chin are a wonderful match for the words. Clearly, he devised a landscape to tell the story, plotting out a two-dimensional map for his own reference and then creating a three-dimensional illustration for each page for the reader to see, using different views of his “Water World” to follow along with Ms. Paul’s text. Color shines off every page as each scene unfolds with children bouncing through each step of the story – children in rain, in snow, in the mud, watching clouds – all delightful illustrations detailed right down to the pattern on a kite or another child holding a lizard as he comes off the bus.

After the final page of text, the book also includes a short glossary of terms and some interesting facts, as well as some further readings that may interest others.

Kids under the age of ten would probably enjoy this book the most, with its sparse words and eyefuls of illustrations. It is still enjoyable for others as well.

The hardcover version is listed at $18.99. I gladly review this book through the help of Becky Flansburg and the Multicultural Children’s Book Day organization.

#readyourworld

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

BOOK REVIEW: SHELTERBELTS by Candace Simar

book-coverSHELTERBELTS
By Candace Simar
267 pages
Published by North Star Press

My taste in reading favors people; real people. I’m not much for murder mysteries or romances. Give me ordinary folks who live ordinary lives but yet have their own stories to tell.

You can’t get much more ordinary than a community of farmers in a nondescript Minnesota township. Yet, that’s what Candace Simar gives us in this novel. Her ordinary people become folks we all know from our own lives; the blabbermouth gossip lady, the simple village idiot, the old maid to be, the mothers and fathers who have hopes for their kids, the kids who might dash those hopes . . . and let us not forget the community built around the businesses in those townships, from the farm supply dealers, across the street to the merchants, and down the road to the ramshackle Lutheran church which serves as the social and spiritual center for the people in this book.

Candace Simar’s writing style is warm and neighborly. Taking from her pool of wonderful words, she gives us descriptions that finds us saying to ourselves, “Hey, I know someone just like that!” There’s Tia the spinster to be, who could just as well be your own cousin Barbie. There’s Harvey, the struggling farmer who never gives up, even though his son Eddie is a simpleton – just like the guy down the road from your house. You’ve all met someone like Tillie – she’s the one who knows everything about everyone in the town and for sure will you can bet she will tell you everything about everyone in the town, often in one breath.

Your mind sees and feels each character – their clothing, their posture, their ethics . . . and you have felt their emotional disappointments, their victories, their hopes and dreams. You know what it’s like to not be properly dressed for certain social occasions. You know what it’s like to observe an awkward moment at a public gathering – or even have been the center of one of those awkward moments. All of this is here, made clear by the hand of Candace Simar in SHELTERBELTS.

The novel takes place at the very end of World War II. The boys that have left the farms to serve Uncle Sam haven’t quite returned yet; well okay, one does. Those in the township go through their lives, doing mundane chores, observing the weather and all conditions that concern farming, planning on money coming in from crops and egg sales. The radio is a big source of news. A few farms have been innovative enough to allow their houses to be wired for electricity, who some find uppity, while others become jealous.

But at the top of it all, the theme of community commands the reader’s attention. The mechanics of the social interplay become a stage of action for Simar’s writing – and she generates hearfelt actions out of that mechanical world. Through her characters, she reminds us that the community is out there, so full of support and hurt, all at the same time . . . and not letting us forget that our own community, flawed as it may be, is still so very near and dear to us.

There is a list of emotions that appear here – elation, disappointment, jealousy, spiritual glory, the joys of simple life – Simar paints all of them with a clarity and realism that draws deeply upon our own wells of emotion.

I just wish the book didn’t end so quickly – I wanted to know more about the characters and where they were headed. I wanted to read more about the improvement in their lives as the effects of World War II faded. Perhaps there will be a SHELTERBELTS II.

There are several books about community that I read over and over again, year after year – Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Hassler’s GRAND OPENING, come to mind. I’m adding Simar’s SHELTERBELTS to that list.

*I have had the pleasure of meeting Candace Simar, a writer living in central Minnesota. Other books she has written include ABERCROMBIE TRAIL, BLOOMING PRAIRIE and FARM GIRLS. I must also add that she is a fine SCRABBLE player, having bested me more often than not in the online version of that game of words.

Book Review: The Cello Suites

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Book Review:
The Cello Suites
By Eric Siblin
Published by Grove Press
270 pages

Bach and his music. Boring? Pablo Casals, that old Spanish cello player. Boring? Combine the two in one book? Boring squared? Not at all. This fine study it totally interesting and innovative in many ways.

Eric Siblin has penned a truly interesting and well researched book about these two musical men and their connection through a set of six pieces written for the cello. Siblin, who has made a name for himself by reviewing rock music, suddenly found himself wrapped in the classical music world of Bach and Casals as he learns of the story of the search for the original copy of the six cello suites by Bach, and how Pablo Casals single handedly brings these pieces to the world.

The structure of the book is unique; there are 36 chapters in the book, one named for each movement of the six suites, including preludes, allemandes, courants, gigues, sarabandes and gavottes. Each chapter centers on biographical work on Bach or Casals, or on the families of either man, or on the nature of the music, or on Siblin’s own reflections as he experiences these pieces, or on music history.

One would think that such material would be dry and thunderously dull. Think otherwise, reader. Siblin uses his writing to present a book that offers a conversational tone about his subjects, allowing the reader to settle into his chair and enjoy the lives of these men, and of these works of music. The language, though scholarly, is not highbrow. This is not for musical snobs only; it reads well for all.

We meet Bach and his family. We read of his moves from German town to town as he builds a career that he hopes will increase his stature with each city. We meet the princes and lords of the German city –states as they parry over his skills, and as he performs for and against other musicians. We meet his kids, his wives, especially Anna Magdalena, and how many of them build their own musical careers.

We meet Pablo Casals as a child in the Catalonian part of Spain, and how he develops his love for the cello. We meet his mother, his family, and ultimately his wife – when they marry, he is 80, she is 21. We watch Casals tour with his cello. We see his directorial work as he creates his own musical group. We learn of Casals and his political influences in Europe, starting in the 1920s, then on into the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, on into World War II and even into the halls of the United Nations, and then into Puerto Rico, where he concludes his time on earth, having been a consummately admired musician.

The suites themselves become characters in a way as Siblin describes the personality of each of the suites. Once intended as mere practice pieces, because of Casals’ recording of them in the 1920s, they became true virtuoso pieces for all cellists. Siblin also delves into the unknown of the pieces. He wonders who the suites were intended for. He asks if they were indeed meant for the cello or for a unique five-stringed instrument of his own devising.

THE CELLO SUITES is interesting, informative, and a good read. Congratulations, Mr. Siblin, on your fine job.