Book Review: Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis

hidden-like-anne-frankHidden Like Anne Frank
14 True Stories of Survival
Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-54362-0
Hardcover

Anne Frank was the most memorable child of the Holocaust, but there were many, many others. In this extremely vivid and moving collection of fourteen personal narratives by survivors of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, readers will find themselves experiencing a range of emotions.

These survivors were separated from parents, siblings, cousins and other relatives, found themselves moved more times that they could count, experienced despair the day after hope and came out of the experience forever changed. They had to adopt new names, new religions, learn different customs and even undergo eyebrow shaping and a change of hair color. Readers will discover how entire communities were herded like cattle, lost everything they had accumulated, were forced to ignore siblings in public, live under inhumane conditions, endure beatings by people who had supposedly befriended them, go hungry for extended periods of time and often had to remain in unlit cold and cramped places for hours while being terrified that the knock on the door meant exposure and a trip to a concentration camp.

Each story is different, each survivor knew great loss and deprivation, but all endured. What comes across clearly in each story is how the experience forever changed not only the narrator, but their relationships with surviving family members. Each reader will have unique reactions to every story. There are some that inspire admiration, some that evoke pity, sympathy or empathy and even one that might strike one as annoying, but none of us were there to live the terror and fear, so who’s to say how our story might come across under similar circumstances.

This is a book that should be read by as many people as possible, particularly in a time (like now) where ethnocentricity and racial intolerance are once more on the rise. It’s well worth having in any school or public library.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw and Forensics by Val McDermid

when-krishna-callsWhen Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery #4
Susan Oleksiw
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3225-4
Hardcover

Indian American photographer Anita Ray lives at her Auntie Meena’s tourist hotel in South India. She is preparing for a one woman show at a prestigious gallery and her aunt is pleased that she is not involved in solving other people’s problems, for a change. When a young woman abandons her daughter inside the Hotel Delite and then flees, Anita recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, Nisha. Soon the police come searching for Nisha, whom they want as the suspect in the stabbing death of her husband, Panju. Panju was angry about the local farmers losing their land to people who want to exploit the land, and he made enemies. Anita discovers that Panju owed debts to the unscrupulous moneylender from the family’s village.

When Anita goes to take some more photographs for her show, she sets up her camera for a shot and discovers a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else’s memory card inside. She doesn’t recognize the photos on the card, but someone is sending her a plea for help. Anita is drawn into the search for Nisha and wants to exonerate the hotel’s employee, while navigating the world of moneylenders and debts of honor.

The author does a wonderful job of capturing the rhythm of the speech and weaves references to food, clothing and customs throughout the story. The juxtaposition of the traditional India and the influence of new technology (cell phones are essential to the plot) make for a delightful journey. Readers who enjoy the mysteries of Tarquin Hall and Michael Stanley may like the Anita Ray series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

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forensicsForensics
What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime
Val McDermid
Grove Press, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2515-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  The dead talk – – to the right listener.  They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them.  Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces.  Forensics goes behind the scenes with some of these top-level professionals and their groundbreaking research, drawing on Val McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer, and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide.  It’s a journey from war zones to fire scenes and autopsy suits and brings McDermid into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earlier beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

Ms. McDermid starts the book with facts dating from eighteenth-century scientific discoveries, when the term “forensic, meaning a form of legal evidence – science, was born,” to the present time.  The first case, in the opening chapter, describes dates back to 2005, going on to the opening of the first crime investigation lab in 1910 in France, the founder of which wrote a landmark 7-volume textbook on which he called “criminalistics,” and coined the phrase “every contact leaves a trace.”  The second chapter, “Fire Scene Investigation,” goes back to September of 1666, then to a case in County Durham in 1844, one in Derbyshire in 1981, and on from there, covering each milestone reached.  The ensuing chapters discuss at length other aspects of forensics, i.e., entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter and DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology, as well as the all-important courtrooms where all the evidence is presented, to the ends that justice is, irrevocably, done.

Not a dry recitation by any means, the author has made it very real and intense by recounting the names of victims and the circumstances of many of the cases cited.  The book makes for fascinating reading, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere by Dr. Bo Brock and The Room with the Second-Best View by Virginia Smith

crowded-in-the-middle-of-nowhereCrowded in the Middle of Nowhere
Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America
Dr. Bo Brock
Greenleaf Book Group Press, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-62634-264-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America is a collection of humorous and poignant stories from a veterinarian in a small, dusty farming and ranching community in rural West Texas. Dr. Brock gives you an intimate look into his small-town and big-hearted perspective on life, animals, and their owners. His unique perspective and tales of doctoring beloved pets, cantankerous livestock, and occasionally their owners will make you smile, laugh, cry, and evoke every other emotion under the sun.

Mention the words “veterinarian” and “book” to me and I’m a very easy mark. In fact, I’m a pushover. My near-obsession started years ago with James Herriot—I re-read and re-listen on a regular basis—and I’m always on a subconscious mission to find more vets/authors like him. So far, I’ve never been disappointed though some are slightly less successful than others.

Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere falls into the latter end of the range but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, not at all. The main thing I found missing was a sense of time, of when things were happening and my other quibble had to do with the brevity of many of Dr. Brock‘s stories, making it difficult to get invested sometimes. This book is a collection of vignettes, some as short as a few paragraphs, rather than the longer episodes you usually see that give you the chance to get to know the vet and other characters and, of course, the animals.

Still, this gave me a few hours of pleasure and I must say I won’t soon forget the pregnant mouse or the indestructible little red pig while Leonard’s horses brought tears to my eyes. In fact, Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere gave me both tears and smiles and that’s what a vet book should do. Should Dr. Brock write another one, and I hope he will, I’ll certainly want to read it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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The Room with the Second-Best ViewThe Room with the Second-Best View
Tales from the Goose Creek B&B #3
Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-7369-6481-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The B&B Is Open for Business!
Shhh…

Excitement is in the air in Goose Creek, Kentucky, as the small town prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary and the veterinarian’s upcoming wedding. But trouble is brewing in this provincial paradise…

Al Richardson agreed to open a B&B with his wife after his retirement in two years, but Millie secretly invites some guests to stay for the wedding. She plans to be the most gracious Southern hostess—until a tumble down the stairs leaves her unprepared for their quirky and cantankerous first guest.

Meanwhile, the town’s anniversary plans are in a state of chaos as the celebration committee scrambles to raise the necessary funds—an effort spearheaded by a “newcomer,” which ruffles the townsfolk’s feathers.

Goose Creek has lasted 150 years. Can it survive the next month?

When I first made the acquaintance of the folks in Goose Creek back in July (see my review of Renovating the Richardsons), I fell in love with the town and its citizens and I could hardly wait to catch up with the rest of the books in the series. I haven’t yet gotten to the first book, The Most Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade, or Dr. Horatio vs. the Six-Toed Cat, a novella that was published following Renovating the Richardsons but chronologically precedes the first book. Instead, I jumped right into the third novel and I couldn’t be happier.

Al and Millie are moving ahead with the renovations on their large house, turning it into a B&B that they plan to open when they retire but Al’s suspicions are raised by Millie’s culinary bribery tactics. When he hears she wants to do a “practice run”, he’s not the least bit pleased because, as he puts it, he won’t retire for another two years and eight days and they agreed on that timeline. Never mind, Millie gets her way because, after all, Al is nearly unable to seriously say “no” to this woman who’s the center of his life but a simple hosting of a few wedding guests soon mushrooms into so much more. Al has been forced into taking charge, grudgingly, because Millie suffered a mishap so when the first guest to arrive, the groom’s meddling eccentric Aunt Lorna, is three weeks early and exceedingly annoying, the problems are just beginning. One might question if Goose Creek can survive this wedding. Even if it can, will Millie be able to work on a civic program with the aggravating Lulu Thacker whose obnoxiousness is only exceeded by that of her husband, Franklin?

There are no overwhelmingly important issues in this kind of story but I love the comfort and pure pleasure to be found with no gratuitous anything…sex, violence, what have you. Humor and concern for one’s neighbors abound in this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have no problem reading series out of order but I truly believe this one can be comfortably read in any order and you won’t feel that chunks of backstory are missing. Goose Creek, as always, is a wonderful town to visit at any time and Ms. Smith never disappoints.

Now, I really need to get those two missing books and I’m thrilled there’s another novella coming, A Goose Creek Christmas, at the end of November. I’ve pre-ordered it and, because I know I’ll forget all about it by the time it’s released, I’ll have a most delightful surprise 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

Book Review: Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister

Two Dogs and a ParrotTwo Dogs and A Parrot
What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life
Joan Chittister
BlueBridge, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-629190-06-8
Hardcover

As a child, Joan Chittister longed for a dog. Living in an urban walk-up apartment wasn’t an ideal location, so Billy, a blue parakeet, arrived and became the center of her life. Her relationship with Billy began to shape her understanding of the importance of animals in our every day lives.

In the introduction, she states, “…the narrative of human relationships with animals has a very mixed and sad history.” She uses a mix of anecdotes and examination of the spiritual bonds to limn and celebrate the relationships that build between people and the animals in their care.

Danny, an Irish Setter, arrived at the convent as a birthday gift, and taught Chittister to embrace differences and adapt to change. Living on his own terms, Danny challenged her to reshape her life and examine the boundaries she’d installed.

The Golden Retriever, Duffy, was rescued. A purebred raised as a show dog, he’d gotten too big and outgrown “the standard of the breed.” He was on the euthanize list when Chittister adopted him. As a pedigreed purebred, he’d been raised to obey and had most of his puppy-ness trained out of him. He didn’t bark, didn’t jump, didn’t run, but he did give unbridled love. He overcame his conditioning to take on tasks he wasn‘t comfortable with in order to be with those he loved.

Dogs age and so do people. When Duffy died, the convent decided that big dogs were too difficult to take on, so Chittister went back to her first love—birds.  Bennie, a small conure, came to live but disappeared one day and then Lady, a caique (colorful parrots native to South America) came into their lives. She brought with her the ability to adapt to new situations without destruction. As Chittester says, “Change expands the horizons of the human heart.”

In a gentle way, this books takes on the lessons of respect, love and acceptance by looking at the bonds between human and animals.

Chittister is an inspirational author and leader in contemporary spirituality, a past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and currently serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson

A Private History of HappinessA Private History of Happiness:
Ninety-nine Moments of Joy from Around the World
George Myerson
BlueBridge, June 2014
IBSN 978-1-933346-51-9
Trade Paperback

There are moments in our lives when happiness and joy overwhelm us. A wedding. The birth of a child. A graduation. A prize or award.

But there are other, quieter, more personal moments when we feel a peace, a sense of rightness, a oneness with our surroundings and the people in our lives.

George Myerson, a previous Lecturer and Reader in English in King’s College, London has culled the journals, diaries and writings of poets, writers and plain people over more that 4,000 years to synthesize the happiness that comes quietly into one’s soul from everyday occurrences.

These aren’t the milestones that mark our lives, but the recollections and reminiscences that we usually don’t share with others.

In the 24th Century BCE, the scribe Ptah-Hotep records that “Wisdom has caused me, in high place, to live…” and that he found the favor of the king. In May, 1852, Lodias Frizzell writes in her diary that they found a perfect place to camp on their wagon trek across the country to California and that she was able to cook a “general feast” for her family.

One rejoices that he was able to live in high places and one is happy that she can perform those small, daily functions that provide for her family and these actions give them happiness…maybe a small, warm spot in their soul.

Myerson has pulled selections from such people as Benjamin Franklin, Humphry Davy, Walt Whitman, Fanny Burney and Lady Sarashina, a court attendant from Kyoto about 1050. The topics range from science to fish to the refreshment of drinking from a mountain stone well.

Topics cover Love, Nature, Food and Drink, Creativity and Evening among others and Myerson discusses the selections and gives brief biological sketches of the authors.

I generally don’t read inspirational literature, but these selections give the reader a glimpse into the lives of some notables–and some obscure people–and reminds us to be aware of and absorb the grandeur of everyday life.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, September 2015.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

The Geek's Guide to DatingThe Geek’s Guide to Dating
Eric Smith
Quirk Books, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-59474-643-7
Hardcover

While the advice in The Geek’s Guide to Dating is undoubtedly spot-on for all single, self-professed geeks, it, in no way, should be limited to that audience. “Geek” is proudly owned by excitable, quirky, intelligent and often goofy folks; with a “proper geek” being one consumed by a particular passion. Geeks are not exclusive. This thoughtful, hilarious, kind book is applicable to all members of society. It is a superb, subtle reminder of how to treat other people.

I’m particularly smitten with the idea that Mr. Smith’s first step is introspective. Figure yourself out, determine your goals, identify opportunities for improvement….essentially: get a grip on your own life before commingling.

Helpful hints pepper the pages. Useful quotes from Led Zeppelin to Yoda are more widely applicable than I could have imagined. References from The Simpsons to Pokémon ensure that there is absolutely something for everyone.

To accurately convey the spirit of the book and entice you to try it, I would remiss if I did not share a few of my favorite tips, tid-bits and reminders.

• Narrowing horizons in any aspect—self-limiting
• “Let your geek flag fly because someone will salute it.”
• Dressing on a date is less about establishing your geek cred; all about being presentable in public
• Avoid “more Rasputin than romantic” when grooming
• Moms’ favorites that stand the test of time

o Stand up straight
o Listen
o Eye contact

• Communicate clearly: state intent and have a plan
• Equating a date to a “real life Choose Your Own Adventure book”
• “Weather chitchat is where conversation goes to die.”

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this delightful tome and it has served as a spectacular gift on several occasions.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2015.

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.