Thursday Book Feature: A Tale of War, Trust, Acceptance, and Love


The War that Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Copyright 2015.

Right before the start of World War Ii, Ada, age ten, and her brother Jamie, six, flee London to a village in the English countryside, along with other evacuated children, mostly to escape their abusive mother. Despite a club foot, Ada learns to ride and care for horses. Although a teacher claims she’s not educable, she learns to read, write, knit, and sew and becomes involved in the war effort. She eventually realizes that even though she has a disability, she’s not a bad person.

Told from Ada’s first person point of view, this book is written for children but in such a way that adult readers don’t feel as if the narrator is talking down to them. It was chosen by my regional talking book library’s discussion group.

I like the way Ada describes her abuse and later the explosion of bombs and the state of wounded soldiers. The author doesn’t try to shelter young readers from reality. War, trust, acceptance, and love are themes to which we can all relate. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: An Amazing Story


The Paddy Stories: Book 2
By John Justice
Copyright 2018

In this sequel to The Paddy Stories: Book 1 , Pat, a totally blind boy, enters high school. It’s the 1950’s, and he’s mainstreamed into a public school in California, along with another blind boy and a girl in a wheelchair. Lucy, his bosom buddy from the children’s home in Philadelphia where Pat lived, along with others who were also at the home, start high school with him.

Pat takes a music class as an elective and forms a band with Lucy and others. In the course of four years, they become popular. Romantic relationships develop, and Pat and his friends help others along the way. The book also contains sub-plots involving other characters Pat knew in Philadelphia.

There are some missing pieces to this puzzle. In the last volume, Pat was orphaned at age eight, and after spending time in a Philadelphia children’s home, he traveled to Oakland to live with his uncle and aunt. His friend Lucy soon followed, after being reunited with her father. The book ends with Pat in a dormitory at a school for the blind, facing an uncertain future.

As the second volume opens, Pat is starting high school. His uncle and aunt have adopted a couple of other children, but there’s little back story about them or any of the other characters from the previous volume. This would have been helpful, especially to those having not read the first book.

Otherwise, this is an amazing story. It’s amazing that in the 1950’s, a high school principal welcomed three students with disabilities at a time when mainstreaming wasn’t popular. It’s amazing that Pat was able to do so well in school despite one teacher’s attitude and few materials available in braille and that other teachers and students didn’t have a problem with Pat’s blindness. It’s amazing that Pat and Lucy and other young couples were able to express their love for each other openly and talk about getting married when surely this was frowned upon back then. Although this book, in my opinion, is not realistic, despite the missing pieces to the puzzle, I enjoyed being taken to a world where dreams really come true.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: Celebrating All Seasons


The books I’m reviewing today contain poems, song lyrics, and prose for all seasons. Some of you may remember my review of Chasing the Green Sun back in 2012. This book is worth a second look, so be sure to scroll down and read my review.

***

Julie Andrews Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year
Compiled by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
Copyright 2012.

The poems and song lyrics in this collection are divided into sections by month and season. At the end, there’s a section on other celebrations such as birthdays and welcoming newborns. Besides Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, other poets featured here include Emily Dickinson and John Updike, to name only a couple. The book includes illustrations and an index.

I enjoyed reading the poems in this collection. I knew most of the songs and ended up singing along, as I was reading the lyrics. I especially liked the Christmas section, which contains, among other things, Christina Rosetti’s poem that was the basis for “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” a song I’ve sung a few times. I wish they’d included “Twas the Night before Christmas.” This book is fun for all ages, so if you have kids, I suggest reading them the poems and singing the songs with them, especially during the time of year for which the poems and songs are written.

***

Chasing the Green Sun
By Marilyn Brandt Smith
Copyright 2012

This is a collection of stories, poems, and essays written mostly by Marilyn. She collaborated on a few of them with her husband and other authors. The book is divided into twelve sections, each corresponding consecutively with the months of the year. Some of the pieces are seasonal. Others were originally published in the Behind Our Eyes anthologies and Magnets and Ladders. The title comes from an essay in which Marilyn describes how her son, born blind, perceived the moon when he was a child.

I met Marilyn years ago when I joined Behind Our Eyes, an organization of writers with disabilities, of which she is now president. It was fun losing myself in her writing. I wondered what would become of a woman in a hospital on New Year’s Eve, a victim of domestic violence. I laughed when a blind man told a policeman why he couldn’t move his van. I found her stories about her volunteer work in the Peace Corps fascinating. This is another book that can be read over and over again the whole year through.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: Poetry of Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser


Dog Songs
Oliver, Mary
Copyright 2013.

It’s pretty obvious from the title that this collection of poetry and prose is about dogs. Some poems are from the point of view of a dog while others are from the point of view of a dog owner. There are blocks of poems about a specific dog. Amid the poetry is an essay entitled “Ropes.” Here, the author shares her experiences with a dog who could chew through any rope and climb any fence and loved to roam free.

I didn’t particularly care for Mary Oliver’s work until I found this book. The material here is straightforward, funny, and touching. I especially liked “If You’re Holding the Book,” in which Oliver explains that one of the things she enjoys seeing the most is dogs without leashes. It reminded me of the good old days growing up when there were few leash laws, and people didn’t have to worry about picking up after their dogs. If you love dogs, and even if you don’t love poetry, I highly recommend this book.

***

Delights and Shadows
Kooser, TedCopyright 2004

The poems in this collection reflect on various aspects of life. The book is divided into numbered sections with the title of the first poem in each section being that section’s title. Some poems are inspired by paintings.

Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference at which Ted Kooser was the keynote speaker. One thing he said stuck with me. The title of a poem should set the scene.

Titles of poems in this collection, like “Walking on Tiptoe,” “Tattoo,” and “At the Cancer Clinic,” give the reader a general idea of what the poem is about. I especially liked “A Rainy Morning,” in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair pushing herself in the rain. I highly recommend this book.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: The Poetry of Billy Collins

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m reviewing two collections by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. . Some of you may remember that I reviewed The Rain in Portugal last year, but I’ve since read it again, and it’s worth a second look.

***

Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems
Copyright 2012.

The poems in this collection provide slice-of-life and often humorous reflections on such topics as nature, religion, and other poets. In “The Revenant,” a deceased dog talks to his owner from the grave. In “The Lanyard,” the author describes how he made a lanyard for his mother, who did a lot more for him. In “Suggestion Box,” he considers writing a poem about all the people who give him poem ideas. The title poem is about unconditional love. Some poems here are previously published while others are new.

If you’re a poet, Billy Collins might inspire you. After reading “The Revenant,” I wrote a poem in which one of our cats speaks to my father from her grave. “Istanbul,” in which the poet shares his experience with a Turkish bath, inspired me to write about a similar experience I had in a California spa run by Koreans. Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, you might enjoy Billy Collins’ work, since most of it reads more like prose, although it looks like poetry on the page.

***

The Rain in Portugal: Poems
Copyright 2016.

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

I heard about this latest collection when he appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. . Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent a delightful evening reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by
Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: The Imortalists

The Immortalists
Benjamin, Chloe.
Copyright 2018.

In 1969, four Jewish children in New York City visit a psychic who tells each one of them the day he or she will die. These children grow up, all the while aware of their predicted death dates. The two youngest, Simon and Clara, move to San Francisco, where Simon, who is gay, becomes a dancer, and Clara becomes a magician, marries, and has a child. The next youngest, Daniel, marries and becomes a doctor, and the oldest, Varia, becomes a scientist.

I read about this book on an email list. One thing I didn’t like was the author’s shift between present and past tense. She uses past tense mostly for flashbacks, but at times, I wasn’t sure if she was flashing back or in the present. As a writer myself, I prefer the use of past tense only with flashbacks perhaps told in the past imperfect tense.

Otherwise, I found this book fascinating. I like the way the author explores the question of to know or not to know when you’ll die. It also makes you wonder if those children’s lives would have been different if they hadn’t visited that psychic and heard her predictions of when they would die.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: A Broom of One’s Own

A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life
Peacock, Nancy.
Copyright 2008.

In this funny and inspiring memoir, acclaimed novelist Nancy Peacock shares experiences from her days as a housecleaner, an occupation she undertook to support her writing. Each chapter tells a different story about her interactions with one or more of her clients. She describes what it was like to work for people in a gated community she calls “the promised land.” She touches on her relationships, interjects stories about her writing life, and provides advice to other writers. In the end, she explains how and why she finally quit the housecleaning business and started teaching and keeping her own house clean.

This book was recommended on a blog I follow, and I’m glad I picked it up. I laughed at some of her anecdotes and sympathized with her in many situations with clients, who appeared to be mostly rich snobs. The way she was treated sometimes, it’s a wonder she continued cleaning houses for as long as she did. I think anyone, not just writers, would find this book an interesting read.

***

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
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***