March 2016 Book Reviews

Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright 2015.

 

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Kate Mulgrew until I ran across this book on Audible with her reading it for only $5.95. I enjoy reading about the lives of actresses and other celebrities, and this book didn’t totally disappoint.

She starts out by talking about her life growing up in Dubuque, Iowa in a large Irish Catholic family. In a parochial school, the nun who taught fifth grade sparked her interest in poetry and acting by encouraging her to enter a poem recitation contest. In high school, she decided to graduate as early as possible and become involved in local theater. She describes how her younger sister Tessie became a willing slave to her big sister, the star.

After moving to New York, Kate discusses how she studied at New York University and took lessons at the Stella Addler Acting Studio for a year. Stella had a rule that while in her program which usually lasted a couple of years, an actor couldn’t work professionally. However, when Kate had an opportunity to star in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and in Ryan’s Hope, a television soap opera about an Irish family that runs a pub, she couldn’t resist. She left the studio with Stella’s blessing, and her career took off.

She then describes how she played role after role on TV and stage and her affairs with one man after another. At one point, she became pregnant and decided to give up the baby for adoption. She describes her feelings of guilt, even before she signed the final papers, and how she tried to find out about her baby a year later before moving to L.A. to star in Mrs. Columbo. Her experience was similar to that of Philomena but had a more positive outcome.

She eventually married Robert Egan, a director of an acting company in Seattle where she was working. She describes that and the birth of her sons and how she juggled their care and her career. Someone predicted that she could never be a natural mother, and she wasn’t.

The marriage ended in divorce about five years later, and she describes how she met Tim, a politician who was a friend of her mother’s, in Ireland where she and her sons were vacationing. She then details how she landed the role of Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She describes how her seven-year stint in this role affected her relationship with her sons and their surprising reaction when she took them to the first season premiere at the Paramount Theater in L.A.

I would like to have known more. When Kate finally met her daughter, whom she gave away at birth, she promised to introduce her to her sons, but how did that pan out? Did her sons throw spit balls at her daughter like they did at the screen during the first season premiere of Star Trek Voyager? By the end of the book, it’s pretty obvious she married Tim, but he had two daughters so I’m wondering if they became a big, happy family. I’m also interested in her role on Orange Is the New Black, but I suppose a memoir must end somewhere. To learn more about Kate Mulgrew, click here.

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Palisades Park by Alan Brennert. Copyright 2013.

 

This novel, based on the author’s experiences with this New Jersey amusement park, spans almost fifty years. In 1922, eleven-year-old Eddie enjoys visiting the park with his family, swimming in the pool, riding the rides, viewing the side shows, and eating his fill of hot dogs, French fries, and cotton candy. Eight years later, he returns to the park to work and meets Adelle. They marry on a carousel, and after having two kids, they eventually open their own French fry stand in the park.

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, Eddie enlists in the Naval Reserve, much to Adelle’s annoyance, but she and the children do their best to carry on while he’s away. At the end of the war, when Eddie returns home after serving in a non-combat position on a Hawaiian island, Adelle, who has always wanted to be an actress, runs off with a magician who was one of the attractions in Palisades Park, leaving Eddie and the children to fend for themselves.

Their daughter Toni aspires to become a high diver after witnessing such acts at the park. At eighteen, she leaves home for Florida where she trains with a lady high diver and soon becomes the Amazing Antoinette, traveling all over the country to different carnivals and amusement parks, diving off a 90-foot tower into a tank filled with six feet of water, sometimes while on fire. Her brother Jack takes an interest in art at first but enlists in the Army during the Korean War, returns home traumatized by battle, and becomes a writer. Eddie, inspired by his years of service in Hawaii during World War II, opens a restaurant specializing in food and drinks from the islands. The book ends in 1971 after Palisades Park is bought by a real estate conglomerate and turned into high-rise apartments. The author leaves us with the impression that life goes on.

This book reminded me of two amusement parks I visited when I was younger: Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, and Elich Gardens in Denver. I liked faris wheels and carousels but wasn’t too fond of roller coasters or haunted houses. I didn’t get much out of side shows due to my limited vision but would probably have been able to see someone diving off a 90-foot tower into a flaming tank while on fire. To learn more about Alan Brennert’s books, click this link

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On My Own by Diane Rehm. Copyright 2016.

 

In a memoir by this National Public Radio talk show host, she discusses her husband’s death, their life together, and how she manages without him. She starts by talking about how her husband John died in an assisted living facility after years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. When it was clear no more could be done for him, he decided, with the support of his doctor, to starve himself. After ten agonizing days without food, water, or medication, he died peacefully in June of 2014.

Diane describes the memorial service and then shares many aspects of her life with John: how they met and married and lived together and raised two children, how her radio broadcasting career took off, and how John supported her through that and other trials and tribulations. She expresses guilt for moving John to an assisted living facility instead of giving up her career to care for him at home. After John’s death, she became involved in a movement to pass legislation to allow patients to die with the help of a physician. When NPR executives expressed ethical concerns, she was compelled to cut back on such activities. She also talks about her work to raise money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research. She reflects on grief and her eminent retirement from broadcasting.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the author’s narration. I could identify with the agony Diane felt in the ten days leading up to John’s death. Fortunately, my late husband Bill only lasted three days after it was determined the end of his life was near. Even with oxygen, he struggled. Many times during those three days, I wished he would just die so we both could be at peace. It wasn’t until he heard me play my guitar and sing his favorite songs for the last time that he felt he had permission to go.

Diane Rehm plans to retire from broadcasting sometime this year. Once free of National Public Radio’s ethical constraints, she plans to become more of an advocate for a patient’s right to die with a doctor’s help. Six states have already passed such legislation, and I hope that someday, all fifty states will allow residents to die with dignity. To learn more about The Diane Rehm Show, click here.

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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

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13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers

I belong to a group of fiction writers that meets once a week by phone conference to critique each other’s work. Before we switched to a phone conferencing service, we used Team Talk, a computer program that allows users to chat. One day several years ago, whoever set up our virtual room forgot to password protect it. In the midst of critiquing a piece where a murder was being planned, an unfamiliar voice said, “Hey, I’m from Canada. What’s going on here?”

To make a long story short, thankfully, I’m not writing this from Death Row, but that was close. Those who write violent fiction can only hope that they don’t end up on the FBI’s most wanted list, but according to this article, if you’re not on such a list, you’re doing it wrong. I think I’ll stick to what I’ve been writing, thank you very much.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 6.59.11 AM Image via Creepy Freaky House of Horror (Facebook)

I love being a writer. It’s a world like no other and it’s interesting how non-writers are simultaneously fascinated and terrified of us. While on the surface, people seem to think that what we do is easy, deep down? There is a part that knows they’re wrong. That being a writer, a good writer, is a very dark place most fear to tread.

In fact, I think somewhere at the BAU, there’s a caveat somewhere. If you think you profiled a serial killer, double check to make sure you didn’t just find an author.

Hint: Check for empty Starbuck’s cups.

Writers, if you are NOT on a government watch list? You’re doing it wrong.

Seriously. I took out my knee last week (ergo the sudden dropping off the face of the blogosphere) which just left me a lot of free time to…

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Florida Loons

In my last third Thursday poets group meeting, we were prompted to write some loons. A loon is similar to haiku, written in one of two ways: syllables with the first line having five, the second three, and the third five, or words with the first line having three, the second five, and the third three. I chose to write three loons about my recent visit to Florida, using the word three five three method. Below each loon is a description of the event that inspired it.

 

***

 

downtown jupiter pub

with one or two drinks

stranger in photo

 

My brother Andy, his wife Christina, and I went to a festival where food trucks lined the streets for blocks, selling all kinds of goodies from tacos to ice cream. After we ate our fill, we wandered into a bar. When Christina took a picture of Andy and me with her phone, upon studying the photo, she discovered that a stranger standing behind me was also captured. Nevertheless, she posted that picture on Facebook moments later.

 

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paddling our canoe

down the lazy loxahatchee river

shy alligator appears.

 

We were in a narrow part of the river, hoping to spot some wildlife. We found more than we bargained for when Christina spotted an alligator about six inches away from the boat. She snapped a picture, and then she and Andy back paddled as fast as they could to get to safety. Christina said the alligator seemed shy so we probably weren’t in any danger. I hope that’s the closest I ever come to being consumed by one of those creatures.

 

***

 

tug of war

with a loving energetic doxhund

in glowing firelight

 

One warm evening, Andy lit a fire in the pit on the patio, and we sat around, drinking, chatting, and listening to music. Max brought me a dirty sock to throw for him. When I reached for it, he tried to pull it away from me. I tugged back and so it continued.

***

walk on sand

feel cool, refreshing ocean waves

sit on tree

 

While walking on the beach, we found a tree stump that appeared to have been washed ashore. Andy thought it may have come from The Bahamas. The first time we saw it, the stump was almost totally submerged, but when we returned a few days later, it had been washed farther onto the bank so we could sit on it and stick our feet in the ocean. That felt heavenly.

It’s your turn to write a loon or two or three, using either method above. Please feel free to share your results below.

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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

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Big House in the Little Town

As a kid, I always wanted to live in a house with a lot of stairs. The irony was that due to my visual impairment, I was more prone to falling down them. In 1973, we moved from the big city of Tucson, Arizona, to the little town of Sheridan, Wyoming. I was twelve years old, and my brother Andy was seven years younger.

Grandpa Johnson passed away two years earlier, and Grandma needed someone to run the family’s coin-operated machine business. Since Dad’s siblings weren’t interested, he felt compelled to make the move. We found my dream house a couple of years later.

It was a three-story red brick structure on a quiet street. The house faced south with a basement containing the furnace and hot water heater.

The ground floor consisted of a living and dining room, kitchen, and breakfast nook. Off the living room was a small study and a bathroom containing only a toilet and sink.

The second floor had three small bedrooms, a full bath, and a laundry room. My room was next to the laundry room.

The washing machine never worked right after Dad and my uncles dropped it down the second floor stairs while moving it. Sometimes, it agitated more slowly than usual, making an ominous buzzing noise. During the spin cycle, no matter how evenly clothes were distributed throughout the machine’s interior, it shook, as if in in an earthquake.

For a while, there was also a jukebox in the laundry room. Andy and I spent many happy hours with friends, listening to music and watching the washer dance.

My parents occupied the bedroom across from mine, and the one next to it was made into a study containing my closed-circuit television magnifier, Mother’s typewriter table and desk, a couch that folded into a bed, and for a time, Grandma’s old recliner.

The area off the living room downstairs was what we called the book room. Shelves were installed, and for a while, there was even a pinball machine, a couch, and a stereo. When nobody was playing pinball, it was a place where one could sit and read and/or listen to music.

The third floor was Andy’s domain. It contained two large rooms and a full bath which he later converted into a dark room when he took up photography. He used the front room as a work area where he built model airplanes. The middle room served as his bedroom.

The back yard, surrounded mostly by a fence, consisted of a large open area where at one time, we had a trampoline. Andy and others with better eyes played ping pong and croquet. There was also a wooded area near the back gate, just right for barbecues.

A circular driveway led from the street around back to the garage. Next to the garage was a carriage house with a loft. We moved in the spring of 1976 at the end of my eighth grade year while Andy was in elementary school.

When I was in high school, I pretended to be a singing star like Olivia Newton-John. I stood on the front porch and sang, using a wood chip as a microphone while Andy banged an old paint can to accompany me. Neighborhood kids acted as our audience.

Eventually, Mother and Dad got Andy a drum set and lessons. The drums were set up in the dining room, and our little band was formed with me on piano and vocals and Andy on drums. Dad occasionally joined us on string bass. A couple of years later, the breakfast nook was converted into a music room, and all our equipment, including the stereo, was moved in there.

Now, my parents are gone. Andy lives in Florida with a family of his own. The house was sold long ago, but I still remember.

***

What do you recall about a childhood home?

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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

I’ve Caught You?

You fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye Margaret Atwood

***

What did I do wrong

that you consider me a fish hook?

Always a button to my hole,

Why do you think ill of me now?

I’m sorry

if I made you feel like a trapped fish.

You were always free.

Now, I’m a fisherman–

you’re my catch? Why?

***

I was inspired to write the above poem by a prompt on the Washington state poet laureate’s site which involves responding to another poem. The poem I answered and quoted above by Margaret Atwood caught my fancy during a lecture by poet Jane Elkington Wohl about understanding poetry. To hear me read it and my response, click here.

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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

February 2016 Reviews

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh. Copyright 2013.

 

From the author of Baker Towers, a book I read a few years ago, comes a collection of short stories, most of which take place in the coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, the same location as Baker Towers. In one story, a girl from Bakerton works for a Jewish family in New York before World War II. In another, an English teacher in Bakerton reminisces about one of her students during World War II.

I liked Baker Towers, and I enjoyed these stories. Many of them have some of the same characters including those from Baker Towers. Most are about families dealing with tragedies and/or secrets. For the most part, they are in chronological order from before World War II to the present day. In the last story, Joyce, from Baker Towers, mourns her husband’s passing and reminisces about her life with him and their children. Being a widow, I was touched by this one the most. To learn more about Jennifer Haigh and her books, click here.

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My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes by Dawn Lerman. Copyright 2015.

 

When I heard about this book a couple of months ago on National Public Radio, the title intrigued me. My own dad was fat, but unlike this author’s father, my dad didn’t obsess about dieting but eventually managed to get his weight under control.

Dawn Lerman is a certified nutritionist and contributor to the New York Times Well blog and the founder of Magnificent Mommies, specializing in personal, corporate, and school-based education. Her father was a well-known ad executive responsible for such slogans as “Leggo My Eggo” and “Coke is It.”

In My Fat Dad, she tells the story of how her father’s obesity and obsession with weight loss affected her life. She grew up in a Jewish family who lived in Chicago for about the first eight years of her life before moving to New York in 1972. Because her mother, a so-called aspiring actress, was too lazy to prepare meals, and her father was always on one diet or another, the family rarely ate a home-cooked meal together. At one time, her father lost a lot of weight after attending a Duke University fat camp in Durham, South Carolina, but eventually gained it back. Her mother berated her for this and that and said she was too sensitive when she expressed her feelings. She describes how her grandmother fueled her passion for good food and in later years supported her interest in cooking healthful meals.

Several years after the family moved to New York, Dawn’s younger sister April was cast in a traveling production of Annie and later the movie as well as other shows. Their mother traveled with her and was away from home a great deal during Dawn’s adolescent years. Dawn encouraged her sister to act because of her own inadequacies as a singer or dancer. She talks about how she prepared meals for her father when her mother and sister were away and describes the loneliness she felt when not in school or with friends since her father also traveled a lot as part of his advertising career. She also touches on her coming of age and involvement in New York City’s night club scene as well as her parents’ divorce and feeling stuck in the middle because both her father and mother demanded her loyalty.

In the epilog, she describes her father’s lung cancer diagnosis after she had her first child. She explains how she researched a correlation between food and healing and how her entire family, including her grandmother and uncles, came together to rally successfully for his survival. Twelve years later, the book ends with a phone conversation between Dawn and her father in which he announces he’s starting yet another diet. The book includes recipes for all the food mentioned, and there’s a lot of food here so you don’t want to read this on an empty stomach.

I would like to have learned more. What were Dawn’s college years like? Since her parents were divorced, did she spend her vacations with her mother or father? To order the book from Amazon, click here. You can read an interview of Dawn about the book on the Huffington Post site.

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Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel. Copyright 2011.

 

The Hotel Vendome is a posh establishment in New York City. The fictional story surrounding it spans over twenty years. When Hugh Martin first bought the place, he was married with a two-year-old daughter, Elouise. When Elouise was four, her mother ran off with a rock star, filed for divorce, and didn’t return until over twenty years later when Elouise was married.

As we read this book, we watch Elouise grow up in the hotel, surrounded by mostly female employees who develop a bond with her but don’t quite take her mother’s place. She spends many happy hours sneaking into the ballroom during weddings and helping the maids. In high school, she takes a serious interest in managing the facility. After graduation, she decides to go to the same school in Switzerland where her father earned his credentials, much to his chagrin, but he gives his blessing.

After she leaves, Hugh, who has sworn never to become seriously involved with women again, develops a relationship with Natalie, a professional decorator he hires to do the hotel’s suites. As they become closer, Hugh hesitates to tell Elouise about Natalie until a year later when she returns home for her internship at the hotel. She is stunned by the news, thinking it would just be her and her father for the rest of their lives. For six months, she’s barely civil to her father and Natalie but comes around just in time for their wedding. Several months later, Natalie is pregnant with triplets, and again, Elouise is in shock but comes around more quickly. Despite other complications, the book has a happy ending.

This book reminds me of how glamorous it would be to live in a place like the Hotel Vendome and not worry about cooking, cleaning, or even making your own bed. Of course it would be too expensive so I wouldn’t pursue this lifestyle. However, for the time it took to read the book, I was transported to a wonderful place where I could relax in a luxurious suite, enjoy a box of decadent hotel chocolates, and order meals from room service. To sign up for a free monthly email newsletter and learn more about Danielle Steel, click here.

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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