May 2016 Reviews

The Glass Family

by Leonore H. Dvorkin

Copyright 2012

 

Have you ever wondered what your glasses in the kitchen cupboard would say if they could talk? Well, this short, whimsical one-act play might give you some ideas. The action is centered around four glasses of varying sizes and takes place at night after all the humans have gone to bed, and the glasses are left to their own devices. They talk about their neighbors: the plastic glasses that don’t break when they’re dropped, the fancy glasses in the dining room that are handled with care and never allowed to associate with other glasses. They describe how good it feels when they’re washed in hot soapy water in the kitchen sink, making you wonder if their humans have a dishwasher. They reflect on how horrible it would be to break and have their pieces swept into a dust pan and tossed into the garbage. They banter about this and that all night until they hear the alarm clock upstairs and other signs their humans are stirring. Then, they fall silent.

Leonore H. Dvorkin is also the author of a novel and a memoir. She lives in Denver, Colorado. Her husband and son are also writers. She and her husband help other authors publish their books online in eBook formats through Amazon and Smashwords and in print through CreateSpace. With their help, my memoir, My Ideal Partner, will be published sometime this summer. You can learn more about their publishing services here. Leonore also tutors foreign languages and teaches exercise classes in her home. If you click on her name above, you’ll be taken to a Website where you can learn more about these services.

Having some experience in theater, I told Leonore that her play could be produced in conjunction with other one-act plays. She said she’s looking into that. I hope one day, her work can be featured on stage.

***

The Apartment

By Danielle Steel

Copyright 2016.

 

Four women share an apartment in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen: a shoe designer, a writer, an investment broker, and a doctor. They’ve been living there for years and become best friends. In the course of almost one year, two of them lose jobs and boyfriends. The third gets married, and the fourth becomes pregnant. The book opens in the fall, and by June of the following year, the apartment is empty except for one.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and I wasn’t impressed with the male narrator. His portrayal of female characters seemed forced, and I think the book should have been read by a woman. Otherwise, Danielle Steel has done a terrific job with another must read.

***

Midwives

By Chris Bohjalian

Copyright 1997

 

In March of 1981, you’re a midwife delivering a baby in someone’s home during an ice storm. After a long, difficult labor, the mother stops breathing. Numerous attempts to revive her with CPR fail. The mother is clearly dead, but the baby’s heart inside the womb still beats. What would you do?

In this novel, midwife Sibyl Danforth is in such a situation. Unable to get her patient, Charlotte, to the hospital because of downed phone lines and impassible roads, she uses a kitchen knife to perform a Cessarian and saves the baby. Her apprentice tells authorities Charlotte was still alive when Sibyl first cut her open. This starts the ball rolling on an involuntary manslaughter charge against Sibyl.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of sibyl’s daughter Connie, fourteen at the time, who later becomes an obstetrician. Connie talks about her life growing up with a midwife for a mother: her mother’s long absences while delivering babies and accompanying her mother to births when baby-sitters weren’t available. Bit by bit, she reveals the details of the fateful night in March of 1981 when Charlotte died. She then shares the details of the investigation, her mother’s arrest, and the long months before the trial begins in the fall. She talks about the trial itself, two agonizing weeks that changed the lives of her and her parents. The trial appears not to be just about whether Sibyl is guilty but also explores the question of home versus hospital births.

I’ve always found the topic of childbirth fascinating, probably because I’ve never experienced it. My mother once said that having babies isn’t bad, and you forget about it right away. That may have been because my brother and I were born in a hospital, and she was given gas during the difficult parts of her labor. Nowadays, I understand that with an epidural, hospital births are almost pain free.

Okay, enough of my reflections on childbirth. This book is a definite must-read. In fact, I might even recommend it to teen-aged girls, although it has some graphic descriptions. Maybe after reading this, girls might think twice before having unprotected sex.

***

Society’s Child: My Autobiography

by Janis Ian

Copyright 2008

 

This book was on sale at Audible for only $4.95. Remembering the author’s 1975 hit “At Seventeen,” I decided to read her memoir. She starts by describing a California audience’s negative reaction to her 1967 hit “Society’s Child.” She then talks about her life growing up. Her father was a music teacher, but because he was on an FBI watch list in the 1950’s and 60’s, he couldn’t have tenure no matter where the family went. They moved often.

When Janis was ten years old, she learned to play the guitar at a summer camp and got hooked on music. She described how playing and singing became a solace from the difficulties associated with moving from one place to another, being molested regularly by a dentist in one town, and her parents’ eventual divorce. She started writing songs as a teen-ager, and her music career took off. Her family was living in New York, and for a couple of years, she went to a performing arts high school but dropped out because teachers and even the principal resented her fame.

She describes in detail the next few decades of her career, writing songs, making records, touring, and her relationships with both men and women. During this time, she drifted between New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville and traveled overseas. She explains how she was inspired to write “Society’s Child,” “Stars,” “Jesse,” and “At Seventeen.”

At the end of the 1970’s, she married a man who turned out to be abusive. After ten years of putting up with him while still performing and making records, she left him and drifted in and out of several relationships. At the end of the 1980’s, she moved to Nashville and took a break from performing to write more songs. She then discovered her accountant had been purchasing insecure stocks by forging her signature. As a result, she owed a huge debt to the IRS, and they hounded her for years until she was finally able to pay it off. During that time, she battled chronic fatigue syndrome, and through a miraculous twist of fate, she found a true partner.

In 1998, doctors discovered a tumor on her liver, but when it was removed, it was found to be benign. Janis describes how she got into writing articles and short stories as well as songs and made a comeback in the performing world, creating her own record label. The book ends after she talks about how she and her partner were married in Canada five years after her cancer scare.

The recording of this book I downloaded from Audible features Janis Ian narrating it. She sings snatches of her songs, accompanying herself on guitar or piano during her reading. As she describes how she wrote certain songs, she plays and sings passages she is discussing. It’s fascinating to learn how her writers’ imagination works.

Like her, I wanted to be a singer, but I’m glad I’m not after reading her memoir and that of other performers. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the grueling hours or the lack of privacy if I became famous, and I’m sure there were times when she didn’t, either, but I enjoy living the life of a performer vicariously by reading such books as Society’s Child.

***

Losing to Win

by Michele Grant

Copyright 2013

 

In Belle Haven, Louisiana, a small town economically ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, Carissa, a high school English teacher, is chosen as a contestant on a reality TV show in which people compete to see how much weight they can lose in three months through a grueling regimen of diet and exercise. The last thing Carissa wants to do is lose weight while millions of viewers are watching, but family and friends, concerned about her health and the town’s economy, convince her that this would be good for Belle Haven. She then meets the other contestants, most of whom she knows, and to her dismay, she learns that one of them is Mal, her high school sweetheart and now a professional football player who was once her fiancé.

As the author takes us through the contestants’ lives over the next three months, we learn that Carissa broke up with Mal because she no longer wanted to take a back seat to his career. Mal is recovering from an injury and hopes to get back into the NFL. As the two are forced together, things heat up between them, but what about the future? Does Carissa still love Mal, and is she willing to give him another chance? Has Mal realized there’s more to life than football? Who wins the weight loss contest?

I don’t usually read this sort of thing much anymore, but for some reason, I was drawn to the story. Maybe it was the light, steamy read I needed after the seriousness of Society’s Child. I was reminded of the phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow, we die.” A friend once told me that when you diet, you die in a way. The pun would have been perfect for this book because the contestants do just that. They eat, drink, and are merry the night before the competition starts. Then they die-et.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

News from Abbie’s Corner

I’m trying something different. Other authors like Debbie Macomber and Danielle Steele have monthly newsletters which their readers can sign up to receive by email. However, these are bestselling authors who put out a new book every few months. I’m lucky if I can publish a book every few years. Who wants to sign up for a newsletter that describes my life which is just as ordinary as anybody else’s? On the other hand, since this blog covers my writing and other aspects of my life, why couldn’t I make this so-called newsletter a monthly feature like my book reviews? That way, those not interested in learning more about little old me can wait until the next Tuesday. As I used to tell residents at the nursing home when encouraging them to participate in a new activity, “You never know until you try.” So here goes.

The past couple of months have been busy. As you may know, I took a trip to Florida in March to visit my brother and his family. This trip was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect, and highlights include a food truck festival in downtown Jupiter, a canoe trip along the Loxahatchee River where we encountered an alligator, and a trip to the beach. My adventures in Florida this time around inspired a series of lunes.

At the beginning of April, I planned to take a trip to California to attend my uncle’s wedding, but I developed a bad chest cold. Two days before I was scheduled to leave, I woke up and could barely talk and decided to cancel my trip. I didn’t want to travel when I felt so miserable and risk passing my crud on to anyone else. I was sorry to miss the wedding. My brother told me about it later, and it sounded fun, but That’s Life.

In the middle of April, my Third Thursday Poets group gave a reading at the local senior center to commemorate National Poetry Month. We were joined by twenty-five high school students, some of whom shared their work. One such pupil turned out to be another Abigail Johnson. As she read her poem about Alexander Hamilton, I saw myself over thirty years ago. The only difference was that I was sharing a poem someone else wrote and performing it from memory in front of an audience as part of my participation in the high school speech team. Oh, and one more thing, this girl didn’t appear to be visually impaired. I wrote a poem about this moment which I’ll share at our October reading and hope she comes.

At the end of April, my friend Rose Hill, who is our state poet laureate, and I drove to Riverton to attend the WyoPoets annual workshop at the Holiday Inn. WyoPoets is an organization that supports poets and promotes the use of poetry throughout the state. The night before the workshop, there was a reading at the Riverton public library, during which Rose unveiled our new chapbook, Labyrinth: Poems from Wyoming and Beyond. Yours truly and others featured in the book shared our work. My poem, “For the Last Time” will be featured here later.

The workshop presenter, Linda Hasselstrom, covered two topics: revising your poetry and performing your work before an audience. I must admit I didn’t take away much from this because she didn’t say anything I didn’t already know about these subjects. Anyway, it was fun critiquing others’ poems, and I got some helpful feedback on one of mine.

Another poem, a short story, and a creative nonfiction piece were published in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. I’ll feature them here later.

In June, Rose and I plan to attend the Wyoming Writers conference which will also be in Riverton at the Wind River Hotel & Casino. This will feature Native American historian and storyteller Joseph Marshall, III, poet Lori Howe, and other authors, agents, and editors who will give workshops and hear pitches. There will also be open microphone readings, and Joseph Marshall will be the keynote speaker. Wyoming Writers is an organization similar to WyoPoets except we don’t do just poetry. Last year, I was elected to its board of directors, and I have one more year to serve.

This week is National Nursing Home Week. On Thursday, I’ll be playing my guitar and singing at a facility called Green House. On Friday, I’ll do the same at an assisted living center. The following Thursday, I’ll perform at an adult day care program, and on the last Tuesday of the month, as I usually do, I’ll go to another nursing home and entertain at its monthly birthday party. This was something I did quite a bit when I was a registered music therapist before I got married and started writing full time. Back then, my activities were more for therapeutic purposes, but now, I just entertain them, and they love it.

Well, that’s about all the news I have for now. I would like to add one more thing, though. In the past, I’ve been inserting my photo and books’ front cover images at the bottom of each of my posts. The only way I can do this is to copy and paste the images from another post. For some reason, this WordPress site no longer plays nice with any of the two screen reading programs I use, and as a result, this task is becoming increasingly difficult and time consuming. So it is with a heavy heart that I will no longer post these images unless I can find an easier way to do it. You’ll still see links to the pages on my Website where you can learn more about the books. The front cover images are on those pages, thanks to my excellent Webmaster, Julie Posey. Of course when I post to Writing Wranglers and Warriors, which I only do once a month, I will include the images in those posts since others who blog there do the same thing, and it’s always good to have consistency in a blog.

I realize this newsletter may have gotten a little long, but if I do this every month, I won’t have as much to report. Please let me know what you think of this feature in the comments field below. If enough people want to get this sort of thing in their in box monthly, that’s something I can consider. In the meantime, happy May.

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

A Poem for My Father’s Birthday

Dad would have been eighty today. One of his greatest loves was jazz, and I have many fond childhood memories of the two of us listening to such music together. You can watch a video of the song we often enjoyed. To hear me read the poem, click this link.

***

Dad, Fats, and Me

 

As the piano’s base notes

imitate baby elephant patter,

I stomp my six-year-old feet in time,

while sitting on the couch across from Dad,

sprawled in his easy chair, his nose in a book.

He looks up, chuckles.

 

As Fats Waller sings no praises

to a woman’s over-sized feet,

I stand, stomp around the den.

Dad sings along–I giggle.

 

As the song crescendos

with blaring saxophone and trumpet,

I lift my feet,

bring them to the floor with purpose.

 

The record has other songs:

“The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Seafood, Mama,”

but my little feet always stomp in time

whenever I hear Fats say, “Your Feet’s Too Big.”

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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

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A Pirate Poem

How I Could Be a Pirate Despite Limited Vision

 

Prone to motion sickness on the high seas,

during battle, I can vomit

in the general direction of the opposing ship.

 

Able to see numbers on corners of bills,

when treasure falls into our hands,

I can count how much there is,

keep records in Braille,

 

entertain others with guitar and voice,

play a last request for those walking the plank.

If our ship goes down like the Titanic,

I’ll sing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

***

The above poem was inspired by this prompt. Click this link to hear me read the poem.

Now it’s your turn. Write a poem or essay, telling a pirate ship captain how you could be an asset to his crew. When I first read the prompt, I considered writing my poem in the form of a resume but realized that pirate captains don’t follow normal hiring procedures. They don’t reject prospective employees in the usual way, either. If I applied for a job with a gang of pirates, using the above poem as a resume, I would be the one walking the plank.

***

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