Friday, February 23, 2018

Review: Keesha's House by Helen Frost

Synopsis: Keesha has found a safe place to live, and other kids gravitate to her house when they just can’t make it on their own. They are Stephie – pregnant, trying to make the right decisions for herself and those she cares about; Jason – Stephie’s boyfriend, torn between his responsibility to Stephie and the baby and the promise of a college basketball career; Dontay – in foster care while his parents are in prison, feeling unwanted both inside and outside the system; Carmen – arrested on a DUI charge, waiting in a juvenile detention center for a judge to hear her case; Harris – disowned by his father after disclosing that he’s gay, living in his car, and taking care of himself; Katie – angry at her mother’s loyalty to an abusive stepfather, losing herself in long hours of work and school. (from the online description)

Review: Told from many viewpoints, each character's story is told through poems - specifically the classical forms of Sonnet and the Sestina. Not just the main characters speak, but also the adults surrounding them - parents, coaches, social workers, teachers, guardians. Keesha found safety and stability in the house own by a man named Joe (who lets troubled kids stay at his home without payment or official sanction). She reaches out to others, kids like herself, those whose home and life have crumbled around them, who need a place to stay. Each comes with their pain, their own fear, their own troubles, and each find the healing and safety they need at Keesha's House.
While most of the story is through the eyes of the kids, there is a part told through the eyes of the adults. This gives the story a unique depth, helping the reader to see the parents as more then just stock characters. Instead, it speaks to the frequent communication issues between adults and children, and reminds us that adults are often as lost as the kids they try to guide. While race and gender are touched upon, the real topic is the idea of hope, help, and healing.
Because of the format and subject matter, this book is a excellent choice for educational purposes. I would recommend it for high school students (and mature middle school age). There is reference to sex (both consensual and non), abuse, abortion, homosexuality, drugs, and crime, but all in passing (no glory details), and isn't anything that teenagers don't already have detailed knowledge about.
For my part, I found this book enlightening, educational, thought-provoking, and bittersweet. I highly recommend.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards:  Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, 2004, Michael L. Printz Honor Award, 2004, YALSA's "Selected Videos, DVDs, and Audiobooks For Young Adults", 2005

ISBN: 0-374-34064-1
Year Published: 2003
Date Finished: 2-16-2018
Pages: 116

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Revolutionary Medicine: 1700-1800 by C. Keith Wilbur, M.D.

Synopsis: In 1775, when the staggering medical crisis known at the Revolutionary War exploded, less than 12 percent of the colonies practicing physicians held a medical degree. And those few awarded one had gradated without ever seeing a patient.
Here are their struggles, their strategies, their odd treatments, and their theories. From makeshift ambulances and wigwam hospitals to herbal drugs and “cookbook” doctoring, this fascinating chronicle of the crusade against disease underscored the ingeniousness of America’s most daring fighting men. (from the back of the book) 

Review: Using a script-like font, the author takes the reader through an overview of medical practices used during the American Revolution. Touching on physician education and recruitment, military organization, transportation, hospitals, diseased, tools, medicines, treatment, and aftermath, this is a comprehensive, albeit shallow, summary. Pictures of the tools and treatments augment the text.
The drawbacks are two-fold: First the font can be difficult to read and the pictures are black and white.
It is important to note this is NOT an in-depth compendium of colonial medicine, but serves best as an introduction or supplement to studies about the Revolutionary War. You will need to look elsewhere for deeper study.
For my purposes though, which were to augment my collection of books about Revolutionary books, this is an excellent addition. It would be particularly good for school or educational purposes, as it isn’t gory or bloody, while still being truthful about the conditions, diseases, and treatments used during the time. Altogether, a good book. 

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-7627-0139-0
Year Published: 1997
Date Finished: 2-16-18
Pages: 88

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review: Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Synopsis: Sentaro has failed: he has a criminal record, drinks too much, and hasn’t managed to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer. Instead, he works in a confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with a sweet paste made of red beans. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days listlessly filling the pastries. Until one day an elderly, handicapped woman enters the shop. Tokue makes the best bean paste imaginable, and begins to teach Sentaro her art. But as their friendship flourishes, societal prejudices become impossible to escape, in this quietly devastating novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship. (from the online description)

Review: With a sweet depth and surprisingly emotion, Sukegawa takes the reader on a sweet journey through redemption and friendship. Sentaro’s days are long and lonely, filled with tasteless bean paste and alcohol. Until Tokue comes. With her bent fingers and savant knowledge of sweet bean paste, she transforms Sentaro, and later a young school girl, with her kindness and her story.
With simple prose, Sukegawa draws the reader in to the complex lives of the characters. Each character is in need of redemption from their past sins and from the despair that covers them.
It’s hard to classify this book. It’s a gentle read, soft on the spirit but touching to the heart. There is a touch of bitterness to it, as well. Not all things work out, as in real life. But Hope, well, hope comes again, like the Cherry Blossoms in Spring.  
Worth reading, in particular if you find yourself in a place where you need a bit of hope. Drink with a soft soul and a fragrant cup of tea. 

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-78607-195-8
Year Published: 2013 (Trans. in 2017)
Date Finished: 2-11-2018
Pages: 216

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

Synopsis: Sometimes, we fall in love on mission trips even though we know we’ll break up when we get back. Sometimes, you have to shot block a friend’s prayer because she’s asking God to bless an obviously bad dating relationship. Sometimes, you think, “I wish I had a t-shirt that said ‘I direct deposit my tithe’ so people wouldn’t judge me.” Sometimes, the stuff that comes with faith is funny. This is that stuff. Jonathan Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like is your field guide to all things Christian. In it you’ll learn the culinary magic of the crock-pot. Think you’ve got a Metro worship leader—Use Acuff’s checklist. Want to avoid a prayer handholding faux pas? Acuff has you covered. Like a satirical grenade, Acuff brings us the humor and honesty that galvanized more than a million online readers from more than 200 countries in a new portable version. Welcome to the funny side of faith. (from the online description)

Review: As someone raised in church, I found this book both humorous and nostalgic. Much of what the author says I have experienced. Everything for the “side hug”, the “preaching prayer” and the “metro worship leader”.  Acuff offers astute observations about the modern American church, admonishing our behaviors under the guise of pointing out our humorous absurdities.  However, often his humor overshadows the truths and he trivializes many things. His offers humor at the expenses of truth. This lessens the value of his words. The American church would do very well to head much of what he says, but he lacks force behind his words, choosing humor to soften the admonishments. I would prefer a little less humor and more strong words. Having said that, Acuff is an excellent starting point for self-examination and examination of our church. Worth reading, even if it isn’t deep, it still has things to teach.

Bookmarks: 3.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-310-31994-8
Year Published: 2010
Date Finished: 2-11-2018
Pages: 207

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: Women of Wonder ed. by Pamela Sargent

Synopsis: Gathered by Pamela Sargent, this is a fine collection of short stories written by early female science fiction authors.

Review: Collect with by a deft mind, this collection contains short stories written by women about women. Each stories explores a different intersection of science and the feminine. Sargent's introduction gives an overview of women in science fiction, starting with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (arguably the first science fiction novel) and moving into the current (for her) rising female authors. Many of those authors are featured here. She spoke about women in the stories, how in the original pulp fiction, why women are shallow damsels or vixens, and how more female authors gives rise to a new heroine, women with brains and purpose. The introduction alone is worth aquiring the book for.

The stories are listed below: The best was the McCraffrey, with the MacLean and the Bradley close behind. Wilhelm's story hit close to home, and something I think our society is only a few science discoveries away from. Yarabro's story told of a horrify future and left me wanting more of the story. The worst, by far, was the Emshwiller. It wasn't even science fiction, as far as I could tell.

The Child Dreams by Sonya Dorman
That Only a Mother by Judith Merril
Contagion by Katherine MacLean
The Wind People by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
When I Was Miss Dow by Sonya Dorman
The Food Farm by Kit Reed
Baby, You Were Great by Kate Wilhelm
Sex and/or Mr. Morrison by Carol Emshwiller
Vaster Than Empires and More Slow by Ursula K. Le Guin
False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Nobody's Home by Joanna Russ
Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand by Vonda N. McIntyre

Over all, this collection contains a vast array of thought-provoking stories about gender, motherhood, science, and our future. I highly recommend!

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None (Although many of the stories have won awards)

ISBN: 0-394-71041-x
Year Published: 1974
Date Finished: 2-10-2018
Pages: 285

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Raisins in Milk by David Covin

Synopsis: This is a coming of age novel of a Black girl, Ruth-Ann Weathering, born in Mandarin Florida in 1900. It traces events from 1913 – 1920. (from the online description)

Review: In his introduction, Covin stated that Toni Morrison read this manuscript in 1977. He claimed she loved the story but told him the “characters seem thinner and more conventional then they are”. Covin said he spent the intervening years addressing that issue.
Sadly, I don’t think Covin accomplished this. The story follows Ruth-Ann from her girlhood into motherhood. However, she remains flat. We are told she is intelligent, but she never behaves as such. The other characters, with perhaps the exception of Stephen, are caricatures, stereotypes, of characters – the Mammy, the Dominating Mother, the Black Female Healer, the Nice White Family, the Racist White Drunk, the Lynch Mob, the Loyal Black Servant, etc. Stephen as a bit more depth, but only barely, and he stays mostly in-line with the others.
This might have been overcome if the narrative had sense. But it felt more like vignettes, a patchwork of half-formed prose, as if the author could never decide which direction he wished the story  to go. Characters were introduced and given prominent roles in the narrative for a few chapters only to completely disappear. Other characters were introduced as passing names to later surface as pivotal points. This created a disjointed narrative that failed to hold the interest of the reader. Just as you would get into the plot, it would shift, leaving the reader lost.
Additionally, the story made no use of the setting. Covin failed to capture Florida at the turn-of-the-century, or even, Florida at all. This could have taken place in any town in the Deep South with no noticeable change. Good writing makes the setting as vital to the story as any character or plot. Florida is a unique land, strange and magical, that shapes the people who live under her bright burning sun. While I cannot speak to Covin’s life, it felt as if he had never truly been to Florida. He failed to capture to splendid harshness and vast beauty of that land.
Covin’s work never rises about bland mediocrity, settling to use fancy prose and clich├ęd stereotypes as plot points. He could have done much with the concept, but sadly, even time could not improve the story read by Ms. Morrison so long ago.

Notes: I received this book free as part LibraryThing's Early Review Program, in exchange for my fair and honest opinion

Bookmarks: 2.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-9844350-7-4
Year Published: 2018
Date Read: 2-10-2018
Pages: 237

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Evening by Evening by Charles Spurgeon

Synopsis: Written by Charles Spurgeon, these are one page devotions centering on unusual or overlooked verses, often ones we don't consider worth exploring for truth. Spurgeon takes these verses and expands them into profound truths and admonishments.

Review: With his customary directness, Spurgeon offers 365 devotions, meant to be read in the evening, and meditated on as one falls asleep. His words have a strange mix of compassion and harshness. He doesn't mince words - calling us to repent, to leave our sinful ways, and makes no allowance for the disobedience the rules our lives. At the same time, he also offers hope, in the reminder of the saving Love of God and the forgiveness found there. Worth reading, in every sense. I will most likely read this again in a few years.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-88368-646-5
Year Published: 1865 (This Edition, updated to modern language, is from 2001)
Date Finished: 2-4-2018
Pages: 375