Book Review: Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs @JennyBoylan @CeladonBooks

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Celadon Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-26187-8
Hardcover

Throughout Jimmy’s childhood, he felt torn between loving alone time and aching from emptiness. It’s easy to understand the left-out feeling of one sibling when the rest of the family is off, rallying around the other child. He was genuinely proud of his sister and her mad equestrian skills and obviously his parents had to get her, and her horse, to the shows. He could have joined them; he chose not to. Inevitably, the weekends alone could feel downright lonely. Even with canine company.

But there was another reason. Jimmy didn’t exactly understand it himself, nor did he crave the contemplation needed to attempt to articulate the strong, something-is-not-right gnawing. He more than made up for it by being immensely entertaining, even allowing for a bit of eccentricity. 

Based solely on a shared, whole-hearted adoration for all of the dogs, I expected to enjoy this memoir. I did not anticipate being so enamored with the author. I felt a kinship, in an I-want-to-be-that-true kind of way. I can easily imagine an encounter with Ms. Boylan wherein I would enthusiastically profess my fondness for her latest book and then immediately ask if I could pet her dog. I’m sure she’ll have one with her.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.

Book Review: Here We Are by Aarti Namdev Shahani @aarti411 @CeladonBooks

Here We Are
American Dreams, American Nightmares
Aarti Namdev Shahani
Celadon Books, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-20475-2
Hardcover

I want to be Aarti Shahani when I grow up. Not just adult Aarti, author of this exquisite memoir, but the young girl that, after exhausting all other avenues, wrote directly to the judge presiding over her father’s case. So often, in fact, that the judge called her his “pen-pal”. In a way, that sums up her essence. In no way does it encapsulate her whole-hearted determination or accomplishments.

Ms. Shahani shares her story, alongside her father’s, generously and honestly. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares is a courageous and remarkably thoughtful way to illustrate stunning errors, inconsistencies and absolute apathy within the immigration system of the United States.

Her self-education started in adolescence when her family’s American-Dream-Life was demolished. The successful electronics store that her father and uncle were so proud of, was ensnared in the criminal investigation of so many cash-based-businesses on Broadway. A Columbian cartel was laundering money. No one within the judicial or legislative system mentioned that it would be highly unusual and unlikely for Indians to be Cali foot-soldiers.

At that time, Ms. Shahani did not imagine the volume of mistakes that had been made and ignored throughout her father’s processing. She did know that things were not right. For her family and, to her initial surprise, many of her immigrant neighbors. As she learned, she passed on her knowledge. Her assistance and action created ripples all across the continental U.S.

Ms. Shahani’s tone elevates this already compelling narrative. She does not attempt to hide her feelings or opinions, but they are clearly separated from explanations of policies and procedures. The objective, but not unfeeling, telling also shows that other countries have issues as well. It was not the U.S. that errantly issued a new passport to someone…immediately after London’s highest court had revoked all travel papers.

I finished this book with a new awareness of the intricacies and gaping holes in the immigration and deportation system. Ms. Shahani’s conversational tone, warmed by her obvious affections and admirations, make reading her memoir like catching up with a cherished friend in the comfiest of coffee shops. I am so glad that I get to take this gem to ‘my’ students next week; I don’t think I could wait any longer.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

Book Review: Dressing A Tiger by Maggie San Miguel

Dressing A Tiger
Maggie San Miguel
Orchard Drive Press, June 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9970360-0-8
Trade Paperback

In many ways this memoir is an amazing work. In several others, however, it is an insecure narrative of growing up in a world of adult criminals, labor organizers, thoughtful and brutal animalism and deep and sincere love from surprising sources.

Most of the turbulence or action takes place in the Twentieth Century, between 1960 and 1975. A vibrant Teamster Union, a dark wide-spread criminal enterprise often referred to as the mob or the Mafioso, due in part to its Sicilian roots. Much of the action, until the mid-nineteen-sixties, concerns the developing young maiden in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maggie’s narrative voice seems to develop from both conflicting and imperfect memories, thoughtful research among family members, and total fiction to fill in blank narrative, based on logical development.

In some areas, the narrative skips around in confusing fashion. Mostly engagingly written, indeed, sometimes truly lyrical and evocative, the writer has admitted to fabricating some things, deliberately omitted other stories, and at times laid bare in devastating language, embarrassing incidents from behind her family’s private walls.

This reviewer, a close if inadvertent observer of some elements of her story, suggests that readers read the acknowledgments at the end of the book first and possibly more than once. Regardless of the occasionally flawed writing, Dressing A Tiger is an interesting and unique look at a piece of Americana that was sad, uplifting, dangerous, turbulent and in many ways, a positive experience for all of us. It is not an entirely accurate nor complete memoir but it is fascinating and worth reading.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

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Book Review: Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall

Teaching the Cat to SitTeaching the Cat to Sit
A Memoir
Michelle Theall
Gallery Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-4516-9730-8
Trade Paperback

Ms. Theall bares her heart and soul honestly, yet delicately, in this magnetic memoir; and I am forever grateful to her for doing so. I won’t pretend to possess the capability to clearly articulate how reading this book made me feel; or even how just one little line has stuck with me, becoming my mantra, holding me up, allowing me to cling to hope while releasing those nagging questions that will never have satisfying answers.

My gratitude extends to Ms. Gail Storey, an accomplished author, kind soul and just all-around awesome person, for writing such a captivating review and recommending this gem to me. Despite an almost insurmountable stack of To-Read and To-Review books that beckon to me from every room in my home; I purchased Teaching the Cat to Sit immediately after reading Ms. Storey’s review. Upon arrival, it settled into a Some Day Stack, patiently. The waiting period was brief.

Recently, feeling emotionally raw and shattered, in need of a maternal parental unit that I no longer have, I desperately turned to Ms. Theall, and my healing began. I don’t have real problems. Ms. Theall did, and continues to; yet these issues that could bury the average person do not define her, nor does she allow them to limit her. As I read about the brutality, harassment and persecution that she has been subjected to, I felt deep sadness, empathy and an over-all disappointment with the many humans that treated her this way. Then I became angry. No, furious is more accurate. Ignorance should no longer be “bliss”, it should not even be acceptable, and the “everyone’s entitled to his opinion” should be amended to “everyone’s entitled to his informed opinion.”

While I feel bitter, nasty and downright hateful towards those that caused Ms. Theall, her partner, and their son grief and suffering; Ms. Theall is clearly the better person, cruising right along on the High Road. That, to me, is true inspiration.

With a soft, but strong voice, Ms. Theall becomes that girlfriend that you immediately and completely relax with. She possess that unique and enviable trait of seeing herself honestly. With a strong sense of humor, compassion that can’t be hidden or even understated, and the simple, sure sense of always doing the right thing, Ms. Theall’s story is captivating, charming, honest and hopeful; catapulting her to the top of the list of awe-inspiring, formidable women that I admire…..think Cheryl Strayed, Gail Storey, Maggie Stiefvater and Marie Manilla to name a few. These women would deny the accolades, maybe blush, and say that they are no different than anyone else, and they do believe that; but I know better. They are courageous, strong, resilient and tenacious. I will go right on admiring them, singing their praises, and attempting to emulate their outstanding, admirable traits.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Review: My Dark Places by James Ellroy

My Dark PlacesMy Dark Places
James Ellroy
Vintage Books, 1997
ISBN 0-679-76205-1
Trade Paperback

James Ellroy, prolific Los Angeles crime writer, takes us on a rock-strewn, rutted road through his internal landscape in this memoir, which has at its heart, the loss of his mother to an anonymous murder.

This intimate view of the inside of James Ellroy is not for the faint of heart.  As one reads it, one feels the jagged edges, the desperation, the loneliness and lostness of a boy turned man, still boy, trapped with the feelings of a 10-year-old toward his beautiful, red-headed mother, like a fly trapped in amber.

Mr. Ellroy will be the first to tell the reader, and with frequency, that he transmogrified his feelings toward his mother’s death into his fascination with crime in Los Angeles.  He is one of our living literary giants of noir.  Reading this book shows one how he got there. He lived noir.  He is noir.

Yet, there is redemption.  He should have ended up incarcerated.  He should have wound up dead of an overdose or acute alcohol poisoning.  He should have died an ugly death at the end of a short, tormented life, but he did not.  He lived to thrill us with tales of the dark side, the shadow side that lives in us all.  His courage, talent and genetic midwestern work ethic pulled him out of the muck that wanted to kill him.  The reader is the beneficiary, with not only this memoir, but his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz) and his other crime books and essays.

Reviewed by Marta Chausée, December 2011.

Book Review: Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan
William Morrow, January 2011
ISBN 9780061930058
Hardcover

Conor Grennan signed up to work in an orphanage in Nepal so that he could, at some point, impress other people with this item on his resume.  He’s pretty up-front about this, as well as his total unpreparedness for dealing with children, especially children in Nepal.  The lack of table utensils throws him for a loop, for example.  He comes to love these kids, and promises them (against the advice of every other adult connected to the orphanage) that he WILL come back and see them.  And he does.  His life is changed by this experience.

Conor learns that these orphans are the result of child trafficking  The children have been given, along with money, to a man so that they would not be conscripted into the Maoist armies fighting in the northwest part of Nepal.  The man promises these families their children will be educated, fed, and taken care of; he then abandons them or sells them in Katmandu.   He is stunned when one of the mothers comes to Katmandu looking for, and finds, her child.

Conor decides to set up his own orphanage, along with a man he worked with at the Little Princes Children’s Home.  Their first group of children is all set to be delivered when disaster strikes.  The man who brought them to Katmandu discovers Conor’s plan and spirits the seven children away.  Conor decides he must find them all, and bring them to his orphanage.  Then he decides that he must try to find their families and, if possible, reunite them.  Can you say Don Quixote?

Fans of Three Cups of Tea will find some major similarities between these two books.  Grennan is honest, not just about himself and his flaws, but about the realities he must deal with in Nepal.  His growing relationship with a woman from New York is chronicled, mixed in with his discoveries about what he wants to do with his life.  All in all, an uplifting without being dull, amusing without belittling the overall situation, very readable book.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, February 2011.