Book Buzz: Leaving Lucy Pear

I love historical literary fiction, especially when it teaches me something new. The luminous Leaving Lucy Pear is a novel so rich in sensory images that I found myself transported to a time and place I knew little about and felt instantly connected.

Book Buzz: Leaving Lucy Pear

Leaving Lucy Pear

Author Anna Solomon takes us to 1920s Prohibition-era Gloucester, New England, eschewing the glamor of that period for the dark side: the rampant racism and bigotry. The economic instability, political turmoil, the poverty, the violence.

Against this backdrop lives the eponymous Lucy Pear, the daughter of two women. Born to Beatrice, the unwed teenage daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, Lucy Pear is abandoned by her mother in the family’s pear orchard. It is the season when Irish trespassers steal the ripening pears to make bootleg moonshine.

Ashamed to keep the baby, and unwilling to surrender her to an orphanage, Beatrice sneaks out late one night clutching the blanket-wrapped baby and sets her under a tree. The plan works as the thieves discover the baby and whisk her away. Emma, an Irish Catholic immigrant already the mother of a large brood, becomes Lucy’s new mother.

For the next 10 years, the two families intersect in various ways, but the truth of Lucy’s parentage remains hidden. Lucy, a bold and instinctive child, senses there is information being withheld from her. At the same time, she holds on to disturbing secrets of her own.

Solomon uses two historical events that speak volumes in illustrating the bigotry of the time. There was the infamous case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists who were arrested, imprisoned for seven years, and finally executed for a murder in spite of any solid evidence implicating them.

There was also the “secret court” at Harvard, a witch hunt to expose and then expel homosexual students.

The contrasts in the novel are many:  Jewish and Irish, the haves and the have nots, the fecund and the barren, heterosexual and homosexual, yet implicit in all of them are restrictions of the freedom we often take for granted today.

But the most heartrending contrast is between two women from different classes and places in society, of different temperaments and beliefs, who are bound together forever through their love for a child.

Bookended by the turn-of-the-century influx of European immigrants and the rumblings of World War II, the setting of Leaving Lucy Pear is one of the most absorbing features of the novel.

Solomon is an exquisite writer and skillfully weaves together multi-dimensional characters with a plot that is never predictable. You know when you can’t stop thinking about the characters?

That’s the sign of a great book.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Leaving Lucy Pear. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Leaving Lucy Pear from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Harmony

Harmony is that rare novel that hits my trifecta of an amazing read: compelling family drama, dark humor and heart pounding suspense.

Book Buzz: Harmony

Harmony

Written with storytelling skill and compassion by Carolyn Parkhurst, whose The Dogs of Babel was a huge favorite of mine, Harmony is about modern day parenting and the lengths we will go to in order to do right by our children.

It is about the pressure we put on ourselves as parents, the struggle to succeed at parenting and the scrutiny from society, the disapproval, that makes us doubt ourselves.

Alexandra and Josh Hammond, a middle-class couple living in Washington, DC, have two daughters. Tilly, age 12, is a precocious, creative child who happens to be on the autism spectrum. Iris, age 10, is the “normal” one.

The parents agonize over Tilly’s special needs. Her behavioral issues get her kicked out of every school. People stare at her. Children point fingers. Desperate to find the right school, the right therapy, Alexandra doggedly pursues every option, only to come up short. As Tilly’s extreme behavior dominates their lives, Alexandra despairs that Tilly’s issues will only get worse and it will be her fault, her failing as a parent.

My heart sank for this couple. I felt their frustration, their searing anger when other “normal” children made fun of their daughter. Wouldn’t I search everywhere for help as they did?

And if I were at the end of my rope with no stone left unturned, would I also surrender myself to an alternative therapy endorsed by a self-proclaimed parenting expert named Scott Bean whom I am convinced understands my child like no one else? Would I also persuade my husband to sell our house and possessions to follow this cult-like messiah into the wilderness, to a place called Camp Harmony, with just us, our children and a carload of belongings?

Recounted alternately by Alexandra and Iris, the plot thickens as the Hammonds become one of three families, each having a special needs child, to inhabit this experimental society in a rustic setting where communication to the outside world is cut off.

Will Scott Bean’s parenting theories put into action make a difference in the lives of these children? Will the parents of these children finally get the answers they have searched for, the answers that will lead to their children’s happiness and growth?

As the experiment slowly takes on a sinister shadowing, the tension builds  and … well, I’m not going to tell you any more. Let’s just say it elicited more than one OMG from me.

I don’t have a child on the spectrum. But after reading Harmony, I am more enlightened about what it means to live with a child who relates to the world differently but is no less of a person, whose potential can be discovered with love and patience, whose families deserve our respect and support.

Harmony captivated me from page one. I loved it.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Harmony. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Harmony from Viking for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Land of Enchantment

Book Buzz: Land of Enchantment

If you have ever been in an unhealthy relationship, one that you knew in your bones was wrong but couldn’t get out of, Leigh Stein’s unflinchingly honest memoir about obsessive love, Land of Enchantment, will take you right back to that dark place.

And if you’ve never been there, this will be an eye opener for you.

Land of Enchantment

The story begins with a jolt. Leigh gets a call that her ex-boyfriend Jason has died in a motorcycle accident. He was 23.

While preparing to fly across the country for the funeral, she flashes back to the course of their torrid and toxic love affair, and from there the narrative alternates between the younger, inexperienced Leigh and the older one with the perspective that time and distance affords.

Leigh was in her early twenties when she met Jason, several years her junior. With the rugged looks and bad boy rough edges of James Dean, he instantly cast a spell over her. Smitten, she accepted his offer to take off for New Mexico on a romantic adventure, and in doing so leave the safety of her parents’ Chicago home. They agreed to stay six months. He would get a job and earn some money and she would devote the time to finishing her novel. Then they would move to LA where he would get an acting job.

That was the plan.

From the beginning, though, the signs of impending doom were there. Jason was magnetic, yes, but also critical and manipulative.

In beautiful, bleak New Mexico, the land of enchantment, Jason’s behavior became cruel and disturbingly erratic. Leigh was unhappy, isolated with no friends and no car. Jason seemed to care little about her feelings. Stung when he announced he was going to a party without her, Leigh decided that was the final straw. She scraped together the cash to fly back to Chicago.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, or the end of her relationship with Jason. She flew back to New Mexico to be with him the next day.

The cycle of fighting and breaking up and getting back together, a textbook case of an addictive relationship, continued when they were both back in Chicago. Leigh, in denial, made excuses for Jason’s bad behavior, even the instances of violence. Drugs and alcohol provided a means of self-medicating to get through the depression.

And then …

A friend in New York shared a tip about a job opening in New York. Leigh was terrified at the thought of applying. There were days when she couldn’t even get out of bed.

Did she leave? Could she leave? Did she go back?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

My hope is that this deeply affecting, coming of age story will have a wide reach, especially to girls and young women in troubled relationships whose sense of worth is in the hands of an abuser. Whether physical or psychological, abuse will erode your self-esteem and steal your life. It never ends well.

And I wish I could reach back in time and share this book with 20 year-old me.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Land of Enchantment. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Land of Enchantment from Plume for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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The Democratic National Convention I Will Never Forget

The Democratic National Convention I Will Never Forget

This week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton is making history by shattering the glass ceiling. Along with millions of other Americans, I am watching the convention every night.

This week I am also remembering a DNC a long, long time ago.

The Democratic National Convention

The year was 1968. My days were languid and lazy, as self-indulgent as a 15 year-old’s summer can be. I would sleep until mid-morning, yawn through a bowl of cereal, and get into my bathing suit and flip flops in preparation for the day’s activity: meeting up with my friends at the community swimming pool.

Slathering baby oil on each other’s backs, we baked for hours with intermittent conversation and the crackle of transistor radios in our ears. Sooner or later we would amble over to the concession stand to buy a frozen Snicker’s bar or a bag of chips, flirting with the cute lifeguards as we flounced by.

One day I lay on my beach towel, unable to find a comfortable position. Every muscle ached and my throat was sore. “Walk on my back,” I implored the friend lying next to me. It felt good, like a deep tissue massage. But the relief was temporary.

By the next day I was headachy and running a fever and my mother took me to the doctor. The diagnosis was mononucleosis, and the doctor’s orders were to stay in bed.

Stay in bed? But, summer! Friends! My tan! The fun would go on without me! I cried tears of self-pity.

Every week the doctor made a house call – imagine that – to draw blood. If the blood count remained elevated, I was doomed to another week at home missing my friends. I held my breath each time the telephone call came with the results, but week after week there was no change.

I begged my mother to drive me to the pool where I could at least wave to my friends from behind the rolled up car window. She wasn’t crazy about that idea, and I didn’t push it. I was truly too exhausted to get out of bed. I had little patience for reading; even flipping through issues of Teen and Tiger Beat wore me out.

We had a small black and white TV that I was allowed to have in my room because I was sick. With the antennae adjusted just right, we were able to get three channels. Day after day I watched game shows and General Hospital.

The end of August arrived and the daytime shows were pre-empted for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.The tension leading up to the convention had been palpable. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy just months before, the mounting anti-war fever, cities set afire and burning … there was an electricity coursing through the nation.

I watched the Democratic National Convention every day. Some of the images became indelibly imprinted on my brain. The shouting matches on the floor between delegates and party leaders. The violence that erupted outside, the police clubbing protesters, the tear gas canisters hurled into the crowd. It was terrifying.

The Yippies, the hippies. Dan Rather getting roughed up on the convention floor. Eugene McCarthy, the anti-war candidate, failing to garner enough support. A young Julian Bond who, upon being nominated, withdrawing his name from contention because he was not old enough to run.

Hubert Humphrey, the party’s nominee, would lose the election to Richard Nixon, who branded himself the law and order candidate.

Sound familiar?

Glued to the TV, I was both fascinated and repulsed. It was a history lesson in real time. The year 1968, proved to be one of the most tumultuous years in our history, and the Democratic National Convention unlike any before or since.

This week there have been protests, but no violence. I hope that this convention will be remembered for Hillary Clinton’s nomination, with shards of glass exploding only metaphorically.

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Book Buzz: We Are All Made of Stars

Live each day as if it were your last. You never know what tomorrow may bring. Life is short, seize the day. Hold your loved ones close.

We’ve all heard these phrases throughout our lives. But when we were young and felt immortal, who paid attention? The older we get, though, the more meaningful the message. Have you said what needs to be said to those who matter in your life?

We Are All Made of Stars

This is the premise in Rowan Coleman’s poignant new novel, We Are All Made of Stars. Through the eyes of several characters, we get a glimpse of how love and loss, missed opportunities and second chances have shaped their lives. Although the subject matter sounds grim, do not be deterred; this thought-provoking and often uplifting story will tug at your heartstrings.

We Are All Made of Stars

Stella is married to an army veteran whose leg was blown off in battle. Suffering from PTSD and guilt over not being able to save his buddy, Vincent has withdrawn emotionally and won’t let anyone in, especially Stella.

Frustrated by his rebuffs, Stella throws herself into her work as a hospice nurse on the night shift. She is loved and trusted by her patients, some of whom have made their peace while others express regrets about things left unsaid. After helping a patient write a final letter to a loved one, she becomes known as the conduit for relaying final messages through sealed letters that will be opened only after the patient’s demise.

The other main characters are Hope, a young woman with cystic fibrosis who yearns to experience love, and Hugh, a man who lives alone except for the cat that his erstwhile girlfriend left him with. Their chance meeting with Stella turns into a transformative experience for both.

The minor characters in Stella’s con-stella-tion are also well drawn and factor prominently into the plot. But what enchanted me most were the letters, the letters that Stella ghost wrote for her patients. In turn tender, funny, sad, and heart wrenching, they are written to first loves, faithful spouses, longtime friends, children and even cranky neighbors. Replete with honesty, humor, untold secrets, hopes for the future once they’re gone, they are a delight.

The art of letter writing is fading just as surely as texting is thriving, and that is sad. There is something about the permanence of a letter that texting can’t hold a candle to. Letters are a lasting treasure. You can imagine the recipient holding this last piece of their loved one, reading it with brimming eyes, folding it carefully and putting it in a safe place.

That is truly the essence of this life-affirming book. We Are All Made of Stars might inspire you to pause for a moment and think about the people that are closest to you. What would happen if they were gone tomorrow?  Is there unfinished business?

Say what needs to be said now, because you just never know.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of We Are All Made of Stars. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of We Are All Made of Stars from Ballantine Books for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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The Old TV Game Shows are Back This Summer

I am a longtime fan of game shows.

I was so excited to hear that some of my favorite game shows – to Tell the Truth, Match Game and 100,00 Dollar Pyramid – were back this summer, all new and updated.

The Old TV Game Shows Are Back This Summer

I couldn’t wait to see these new versions.

Well.

You know how the movie is rarely as good as the book? In this case, the new versions of these game shows just don’t have the fun and charm of the originals. Two out of three, anyway.

To Tell the Truth

Running on CBS from 1956-1968, this version starred Peggy Cass, Tom Poston, Kitty Carlisle, Orson Bean, Bill Cullen, Arlene Francis, and others. At the beginning of each show the curtain goes up revealing three contestants  in silhouette, with the announcer Johnny Olsen booming, “What is your name, please?’

My name is … the first one says.

My name is … the second one says.

My name is … the third one says.

Then the host, originally Budd Collyer and then Garry Moore, reads the “sworn affidavit.”

“I, so-and-so,” for example, “am the actual love child of x and y.”

The panelists are charged with correctly identifying this contestant with an unusual occupation or bizarre experience or skill.

In the original version, the panelists would try to squeeze in as many questions as they could in the allotted time. Inquisitive Peggy Cass was often frustrated when her time ran out. Tom Poston was befuddled. Kitty’s elegance was mesmerizing.

With the credits running at the end, the panelists and contestants mingled. It seemed incongruous to see glamorous Kitty Carlisle in her evening gown gamely chatting it up with a porn star.

I miss these iconic celebrities. In the new version, no one has the magnetism of Kitty or the sincerity of Peggy. No one draws funny figures on the answer card like Orson Bean did. This version is  lowbrow. Kitty would be appalled.

It was great to see Betty White on the new panel, but even she seemed embarrassed by the dumbing down of the show. The other panelists seemed clueless.

My rating: D

Match Game

The object of this game is for two contestants to match the answers given by a six-member celebrity panel. The host was Gene Rayburn from 1962-1982 and the announcer was again the incomparable Johnny Olsen. The panelists were Charles Nelson Reilly. Brett Somers, Richard Dawson, Fanny Flagg, Nipsey Russell, Elaine Joyce, Scoey Mitchell, Gary Burghoff, and many more.

Nipsey Russell wrote funny poems that he recited at the end of the show.Brett and Charles Nelson were a hilarious comedy team.  Gene Rayburn often played straight man to their wise cracks. Risqué answers and double entendres were not only allowed, they were encouraged.

For example.

Weird Sylvester was thrown out of the department store when they caught him _____-ing the mannequins.

The zookeeper’s wife was getting worried that her husband was around wild animals too much. After he came home from work one day, she said hello and he _____-ed her.

The new version is more risqué but less funny. Back in the day, risqué was de rigeur, but now it just seems jaded. I love Alec Baldwin but why he chose to do this gig is baffling to me. His body language screams boredom. Rosie O’Donnell is an excellent replacement for Brett Somers but without a sparring partner she is left on her own.

My grade: C

The $100,000 Pyramid

When the show debuted in 1973  it was The $10,000 Pyramid, but with inflation, it had to raise its stakes. 🙂 The host was the fabulous and very missed Dick Clark.

The game features two contestants, each paired with a celebrity. Contestants attempt to guess a series of words or phrases based on descriptions given to them by their teammates.

The winner goes on to vie for the big prize by identifying the category as their partner feeds them clues, within 60 seconds.

This show is perhaps the least dated of the three. Competitors do require some skill with words and phrases. Throw in smart and savvy celebrities and contestants and it is still a fast-paced, fun show to watch. Michael Strahan is the host and does a creditable job. What can’t this man do?

My grade: A

What do you think of these shows?

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Book Buzz: Jonathan Unleashed

I have a soft spot in my heart for books about dogs, so I eagerly dove into Jonathan Unleashed, best-selling author Meg Rosoff’s quirky new novel about a young man at odds with the world and the two dogs that help him find his way to happiness.

Jonathan Unleashed is also Jonathan Unhinged

Recent college graduate Jonathan Trefoil is ensconced in an advertising job that he hates and stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with his girlfriend of four years. He yearns for a more meaningful existence but has no idea how he can get there.

Book Buzz: Jonathan Unleashed

In the midst of this millennial angst, he agrees to take care of his brother’s two dogs, Dante the Border collie and Sissy the cocker spaniel, while his brother is in Dubai on business for six months.

Being a sensitive and, I’ll be honest here, neurotic kind of guy (or more kindly, charmingly flawed), he frets that the dogs are plotting against him because they are unhappy being cooped up in his New York City apartment while he is at work. Although the veterinarian he consults gently tells him that the dogs are fine, he continues to obsess. But, good news, his company allows him to bring the dogs to the office, and all is well.

But then, not.

It turns out that four is a crowd when his girlfriend moves in with him and can barely contain her disdain for the dogs. A conniving sort, she convinces him to marry her because the wedding magazine she works for, Bridal-360, will foot the bill if they agree to let it be live streamed on the internet. Confused and unsure, but anxious to mollify her, he agrees.

As the wedding date approaches, his life continues to unravel. His job and his boss irritate him to the point of collapse. Mysteriously, he loses his ability to speak coherently (the ensuing malapropisms are very entertaining).

Who, or what, will save the day? As all dog lovers know, canine intuition is second to none, and Dante and Sissy take matters into their own hands paws. With a clever twist in the story, Rosoff shows how man’s (and women’s) best friend has an uncanny way of making everything right.

As Rosoff said in an interview,

“It’s much easier to have a relationship with a dog than with a person. Dogs tend to be happy, affectionate, emotionally consistent companions. They don’t sulk or insist on seeing Spiderman when you’d rather see a foreign film.  They don’t come with in-laws and don’t mind eating toast you’ve dropped on the floor. It’s why every eight-year-old boy fantasizes about having a dog not a wife. Dogs are relatively simple, people are relatively complicated. Plus, dogs look better naked than most people do.”

A woof and a tail wag to that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Jonathan Unleashed by leaving a comment below. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Jonathan Unleashed from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Space Between Sisters

The ingredients for a pleasurable summer read are all found in The Space Between Sisters, Mary McNear’s latest novel in her Butternut Lake series.

Book Buzz; The Space Between Sisters

Take a scenic and charming lake community, add in two sisters and two eligible bachelors, combine with the allure of summertime, sprinkle in a bit of nostalgia and a few secrets, finish off with a dash of whimsy with a cat named Sasquatch, and voila.

The Space Between Sisters

Poppy and Win have the same parents but couldn’t be more different. Now adults, Poppy is impetuous and flighty and Win, a widow, is organized and steady. They haven’t lived together in 13 years, but one day Poppy appears on the doorstep of the Win’s lakeside cottage in Butternut Lake — jobless, out of money, and having nowhere to go.

The cottage, once owned by their grandparents, had been their summertime destination when they were children. The sisters both have fond memories of idyllic summers spent in Butternut Lake. When the grandparents died, Win — the more responsible sister– inherits the cottage, and she decides to live there year-round.

Poppy and Win were close as children, relying on each other perhaps more than most siblings do. Their household was chaotic. The parents were negligent and for large chunks of time the girls were on their own, even at a young age. They yearned for a stable home environment but the parents were unable to provide it.

Now adults, the love is still there. But it’s complicated.

Living together for the first time in many years, the sisters still love each other but find new tensions in their relationship. Win is frustrated with Poppy’s lack of initiative and her messiness. Poppy is irritated by Win’s OCD type of organization. At the same time, they are trying to reframe their broken lives: Win, reeling from the death of her husband, and Poppy, struggling with a painful secret she has been harboring for years.

But the bonds of sisterhood prove more durable than the adversity each has faced. Poppy and Win realize they are both ready to find closure with the past. Willing to move on, to accept what is and put it behind them, they find strength in the ties that bind them. In doing so, they find that they have much more in common than they once thought.

This is a breezy, easy read that definitely meets the requirements for a great beach book (even if you’re not at the beach). And if you haven’t read the three prior books in the Butternut Lake series, no worries. The Space Between Sisters is fine as a standalone.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Space Between Sisters. Please leave a comment below and enter the giveaway.

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I received a copy of The Space Between Sisters from William Morrow for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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These 10 Facts Are Why I Support Gun Control

It takes a lot to fire me up.

But fired up I am, so to speak, on the gun control issue.

Gun control is one of the most emotional and divisive issues our country faces, with clear lines separating two sides.  We could argue our interpretations of the Second Amendment and the rights it provides from now until forever and never agree.

Do you really think the founding fathers would have written this amendment if assault weapons had been around?

Neither do I.

These 10 Facts Are Why I Support Gun Control

But most of us do want common sense changes in our gun laws. Yesterday the Senate voted down two gun violence prevention amendments that would have struck the balance most Americans want. By doing so, our legislators ignored what their constituents are telling them. This is unacceptable.

We the People … remember?

Facts About Gun Violence

When emotions rule our better judgment, it is helpful to look at the facts. We’ve got a gun toting, gun loving, gun shooting culture. Here are some of the ramifications.

  • From the Brady Campaign: over 18,000 American children and teens are injured or killed each year due to gun violence. That’s 48 young people a day.
  • Not a single federal law has been passed in decades to prevent gun violence – not after Columbine and not after Newtown. And now, not after Orlando.
  • In 2013, the year after Sandy Hook, more than 11 million guns were manufactured in America.
  • There are approximately 270 million firearms possessed by civilians, and only 897,000 carried by police in America.
  • Mother Jones tracked and mapped shooting sprees over the three decades from 1982 to May of last year. They counted “at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.”
  • On average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
  • Living in a house with guns increases your odds of death.
  • Also from the Brady Campaign: A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • To cover the cost of gun-related deaths and injuries, American taxpayers pay roughly $12.8 million a day.
  • According to Pew Research, Americans have shown broad and consistent support for expanded background checks for gun purchasers. The vast majorities of both Republicans (79%) and Democrats (88%) — including three out of four NRA members — favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. There has also been substantial bipartisan support for laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns.

What can I, just one voice, do about gun control?

In college I marched in Washington to protest the Vietnam War.

In the 90s I marched in Washington to protest the plight of Soviet Jewry.

In 2016 I will do whatever I can to alleviate gun violence in our country. I have made phone calls and sent emails. I have signed up to volunteer for organizations that support gun control. If there is a march, I will make every effort to go.

I will talk the talk and walk the walk to do my part to make our country safer for us and our children.

Please, please join me.

***

What do other countries think of our gun crazy culture? I’ll close this with a bit of levity from Australian comedian Jim Jeffries.

 

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Book Buzz: There Was a Fire Here

We’ve all played the game, the one where you consider what you would grab if your house was on fire and you had no time to pack. When your life literally depended on your getting out of there ASAP.

Risa Nye and her family faced that decision, but it was no game.

It was less than a month before Nye’s 40th birthday. She was musing over the passage of time and her lost youth when the unthinkable occurred.

Book Buzz: There Was a Fire Here

There Was a Fire Here

In her beautifully told but wrenching new memoir, There Was a Fire Here, Nye recounts the trauma and the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed her home.

It happened on October 19, 1991. A grass fire was reported and quickly contained by fire crews. Or so they thought.  The next day gusts of wind quickly spread pockets of fire still burning in the grass. Within a short time flames destroyed the local power station, obliterating eight pumping plants. Water pressure dropped. The smoke and fluttering ash were heavy enough to cause residents’ eyes to sting.

And the fire spread like … wildfire.

Nye and her husband Bruce told their two young children that they would wait out the firestorm at the home of Bruce’s parents nearby. They gathered what they thought was important at the time: changes of clothing, jewelry, photo albums.

In fact, they never returned to their beautiful home. It was the Great Oakland Fire that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 25 people.

Their home was leveled to its foundation. It would take two years to rebuild.

Nye skillfully builds the tension and horror, the feeling of surrealism, as she and her husband absorb the extent of the destruction.  Belongings and keepsakes that remained in the house were gone forever. Articles of clothing, photos of great-grandparents, children’s toys, were never to be seen again. The blue baseball glove Nye’s father had given her; a gorgeous pink party dress — a consignment shop steal — she had worn just twice; a baby blanket. She grieves their loss. In chapters titled “Artifacts,” Nye shares the sentimental significance of these items, and it is heartbreaking.

She writes, “There was a fire here that wiped out not only things, not only people, but memories–a past with nothing left to mark its presence.”

Haunting and sobering, yes, but inspirational with dashes of humor as well, There Was a Fire Here is one woman’s story of catastrophic loss and the will to move on.

 

I received a copy of There Was a Fire Here from She Writes Press for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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