November 2015 Reviews

A Place to Belong by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 2002.

 

Jill, a high school student, loses her vision after a brain tumor is removed. Her mother and stepfather send her from her home in Washington to live with her paternal grandmother in rural Virginia with whom she’s never had contact. With the help of Susan from Come Home, My Heart, she learns Braille and other basic adaptive skills.

She also develops a bond with Ben, a little boy who was traumatized by his father’s death and a friendship that could turn into romance with his older brother. In the end, after Jill learns why her father was never in contact with his parents after marrying her mother, she helps rescue Ben when he falls in a hole. She then decides to attend the Virginia State School for the Deaf and Blind and go on with her life.

I like the stark contrast the author illustrates between opinions of those with disabilities. In the small town where Jill’s grandmother lives, most of the people accept her like they would anyone else, despite her blindness. On the other hand, Jill’s mother and stepfather think she should have a private tutor and not associate with others blind or sighted.

I also like the way Phyllis Campbell incorporates characters from a previous book. However, I noticed one problem. In Come Home, My Heart, which I’m assuming is set in the 1980’s, Wanda, Susan’s adopted daughter, was only nine years old. In A Place to Belong, she appears to be only in high school when in 2001, she would have been in her twenties. As a child, Wanda suffered from epilepsy, but I doubt that would have slowed her learning, especially since she’s able to drive Susan everywhere.

Otherwise, I think this is a great book, especially for teen-agers. I hope young people reading this will gain more of an understanding of what it’s like to lose your vision. To learn more about this and other books by Phyllis Campbell, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ .

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Friendships in the Dark: A Blind Woman’s Story of the People and Pets Who Light up Her World by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 1996.

After reading Come Home, My Heart and A Place to Belong, I wanted to read this author’s memoir which talks about her life and the animals who shared it with her. She starts by describing what it was like to be five years old in 1943 on a farm in Virginia, the fear of her older brother going off to war, how her older sister, also totally blind, taught her to read Braille, and the animals on the farm with whom she developed a close bond like Sly, the old dog and Mouser, a kitten who met a tragic end.

She then goes on to talk about the years she attended the Virginia State School for the Deaf & Blind with her sister, how her first year was marred by illness, her music lessons, and learning to walk with a cane. During this time, her family moved from the farm to a house on the grounds of a nearby mental hospital where her father found a job.

She talks about her life in the 1960’s after graduating from high school, her mother’s death from cancer, her father’s stroke, her brother getting married, living with her older sister in an apartment until she, too, got married, and eventually, her own marriage to a sighted man who worked various jobs. She then describes acquiring a guide dog in the 1970’s and how she and her husband bought an old fixer-upper in the 1980’s. She describes the myriad of animals in her life including but not limited to Buttons, the pooch her family owned when they lived on the mental hospital grounds, Miss Muffett, the cat she and her sister owned in the apartment together, her guide dog Lear and a cat she called Lady Gray who came with the old house she and her husband bought in the 1980’s.

For the benefit of those not familiar with blind people, she describes Braille, the process of walking with a white cane, and what it’s like to train with a guide dog. Each chapter begins with a quotation, some of which are from the Bible, and she occasionally shares how God answered her prayers and gave her the courage and strength to do certain things.

Having read other tales of not-so-pleasant experiences at state schools for the blind, I braced myself for more stories of horrible bullies, sadistic house parents, and bad teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mrs. Campbell spoke with nothing but fondness for other students, teachers, staff, and even the superintendent. She even describes dogs and cats the school acquired while she was there. In fact, she loved school so much that when she became ill during her first year, she hated staying in the infirmary and begged to be allowed to return to classes. I laughed at her many anecdotes involving animals like the time the superintendent’s dog kept following her and her mother home from the school. I was moved to tears when Lear, her faithful guide, needed to be put down after almost twenty years of service. I recommend this book to anyone curious about blindness who likes heartwarming stories involving relationships between humans and animals. To learn more about Phyllis Campbell and her books, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ . Other reviews of this book can be found at http://www.brettbooks.com .

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Bark by Lorrie Moore. Copyright 2014.

 

The stories in this collection have nothing to do with dogs or trees. In “Debarkation,” a divorced historian ends up in a relationship with a divorced pediatrician who seems more interested in interacting with her teen-aged son than him. In “The Juniper Tree,” a woman visits the ghost of a friend who just passed away, or does she? In “Wings,” a musician at rock bottom in her career returns to the town where her grandmother used to live, befriends an elderly neighbor with a terminal illness, inherits his house when he dies, and turns it into a sort of Ronald McDonald house. In “Thank You for Having Me,” a motorcycle gang crashes a wedding. Other stories deal with such topics as divorce and mental illness.

Although I found these stories intriguing, the author’s nasty habit of including too much back story and description caused my mind to wander, and I must admit I dozed once or twice. Lorrie Moore is an award-winning author of other books with outlandish titles such as Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? To order her books, go to http://www.amazon.com/Lorrie-Moore/e/B000APWFEY .

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Crossing the Plains with Bruno by Annick Smith. Copyright 2015.

 

In this author and filmmaker’s memoir, she describes a road trip she took with her dog Bruno about ten years ago during the month of May. She drove from her home in Montana to visit her mother in Chicago and back. Along the way, she provides histories of landmarks and shares memories they evoke of her life growing up in Chicago, her marriage to Dave Smith, their life in Seattle and California, her husband’s sudden death after they’ve settled in Montana, and her filmmaking career.

After arriving in Chicago, she talks about the time she spent in the senior high rise apartment building where her mother lived and at the family’s lake side cottage about eighty miles away. She describes visits from family and friends during that time and shares more memories such as her parents’ divorce and reconciliation and her father’s affair with a teen-aged girl.

She then describes the trip home, a bit rushed because her partner Bill Kitterege’s brother just passed away, and she was anxious to get home to meet his family before they returned to Oregon. Nevertheless, she takes time to reflect on more landmarks and share more memories like the time she came to Montana to research the film, Heartland, based on the true story of a pioneer woman in Montana during the earlier part of the 20th century. She also touches on her relationship with Bill Kitterege, her dog Bruno, and other animals.

This book brought back some fun memories for me, especially of traveling with our Irish setter Clancy when I was a teen-ager. When Annick Smith described sneaking Bruno up a back staircase at an inn where no pets were allowed, I was reminded of many times we did the same thing with Clancy. Like Bruno, Clancy loved to run alongside a creek or river, jump in and swim for a while, then get out and shake himself all over you.

I was also amused that Annick Smith read to Bruno at night from a book called Dog Music which consists of poetry about dogs. This seemed to calm Bruno, especially after he had a bad dream. The author’s appreciation of literature is reflected in the pages of this book which would make a great Christmas gift for anyone who likes to read and travel and loves dogs. To learn more about Annick Smith and her books, go to http://www.amazon.com/Annick-Smith/e/B001IXRWQ8 .

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Note: Speaking of Christmas, next month, I’ll be doing my book reviews a little differently. As you know, I normally review books I’ve read in a given month at the end of the month. However, if you’re like me, by the end of December, you’ll be sick and tired of Christmas so instead, I’ll review holiday books as I read them so you’ll have a chance to read them before you get sick and tired of the holiday season. At the end of December, I’ll review any other books without a holiday theme. You’ll see my regular Tuesday posts, and these may consist of book reviews, depending on when I finish a book. If I finish a book later in the week, I may post another review. If you’re hanging on my every word, you might want to subscribe by email so you don’t miss anything. Happy holidays, and happy reading.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon

Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press.

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