Sunday, July 28, 2013

70. "Kent State" by James Michener

Michener, James. Kent State: What Happened and Why. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1971.

512 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

Kent State does exactly what the title suggests; it explains what happened during the Kent State riots and why. I went into reading this book with preconceived ideas about what the 1960s and 1970s were like. Most of these ideas were born from media representations of this time period. Reading this book opened my eyes in exactly the way I was hoping. I knew that my understanding of the decade was based on exaggerated and romanticized ideas of hippies, political radicals, and free love. This text helped me ground my perception of the era within a more realistic framework. 

Michener's text is nonfiction but reads like a novel. After completing in-depth interviews with many people involved in the Kent state riots, he crafted a piece that is engaging and eye opening. I was not aware of the seriousness of the situation or the complicated nature of the activism that took place in this point of American history. We came very close to losing our established educational system to groups of people who relied often on violence as a means of change. I used to side with these groups in a romantic, idealistic fashion, but after reading Kent State, the issue has been complicated for me and I no longer do so.

No matter where you stand on the issues surrounding these events, Michener has you covered. He does a very good job documenting all sides of the issue and important events in American culture that shaped this era and lead to the riots. This book might not be for everyone as it does rely on a lot of historical discussion and thinking, but if you like learning about the 1960s and 1970s, I highly recommend it!

3.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: Return to the friend from whom I borrowed it. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

69. "Enlightened-ish" by Gail Dickert

Dickert, Gail. Enlightened-ish: A Grief Memoir About Spiritual Awakening. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2013.

153 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

This is Gail Dickert's second book. She is an author, poet, blogger and activist. She is especially active in LGBT communities and advocates for former "ex-gays" and youth. Enlightened-ish is a memoir of her experience of awakening following the death of her father. Emphasizing that everyone's experience of spiritual awakening is uniquely his/her own, Dickert walks readers through a series of "Freedoms" that she learned on her own path. Woven in with descriptions of these "Freedoms," Dickert illustrates the grieving process she went through after the death of her father as well as her means of healing after witnessing a man's suicide.

There were several "Freedoms" that rang very true for me. The first point was in the chapter titled "The Freedom to Cuss." In this chapter Dickert dissects the idea that your body and soul must be separate and that your body, or the human condition, is an obstacle to spiritual awakening. It's true that we, especially in the west, separate our body and "soul" (however you may define that) as often competing entities. Our body has base, carnal needs that get in the way of spiritual purity. This leads us to believe we are imperfect and immoral from the start simply because we have bodies. Dickert is able to break this idea down and show why body and soul should not be considered competitors but teammates in the game of life.

The next chapter that stood out for me was one titled "The Freedom to Say 'Enough!'". Dickert breaks this Freedom down into several principles including being able to relinquish the need to do it all, the need to be seen and heard, the need to be right, the need to know, the need to rescue or be rescued, and the need to suffer (Dickert, 71). Relinquishing the need to rescue and be rescued was a principle that stood out for me as I lean towards being a rescuer in my personal life.

Finally the last chapter that reverberated for me was one title "The Freedom to Save Yourself." This chapter explores what it means to love yourself, forgive yourself, and be your own best friend. It touches on providing for your own emotional needs rather than expecting another person outside yourself to provide those needs for you.

These are just the chapters that touched my heart, but if you read the book yourself, you may find that several other chapters, entirely different from the few I've chosen here, speak to you personally. Because of the way individuality is emphasized in the text, you are free to take from this book whatever fits your own personal path. Nothing is prescribed; it is merely suggested as a possibility to open unexplored places in our heart and psyche. At the end of each chapter, Dickert provides some workbook pages in which discussion questions are provided to help readers connect the reading to their own experience. In this way, Dickert's story helps readers to open themselves to their own stories of grief and awakening.

4 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

Sunday, July 14, 2013

68. "Creole Belle" by James Lee Burke

Burke, James Lee. Creole Belle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.

528 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

James Lee Burke is an award winning author with Guggenheim and Breadloaf fellowships, Crime Novel of the Year Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship all under his belt. He has written and published over thirty novels, many of which were a part of the Dave Robicheaux series of which Creole Belle is an installation.

Creole Belle picks up after Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, best friends and fellow employees of the justice system, are shot in a previous novel. The story begins with Dave in the hospital recovering from his wounds where he is visited by Tee Jolie Melton, a zydeco singer in New Orleans. Tee Jolie is in a bad situation with some shady oil men and is asking for Dave's help. Unfortunately, none of Dave's family or friends believe that the visit was real because Tee Jolie had recently gone missing. It is assumed that Tee Jolie's visit was a figment of Dave's morphine-fueled imagination. 

Once Dave is released from the hospital, he and Clete become entangled in a mystery of mob men and low-lifes being popped right and left by a woman Clete believes to be his long-lost daughter. From here, I can't go into much more without spoiling the story. 

Burke has a very interesting writing style. The first thing that caught my attention was his use of point of view. The book is told half from Dave's point of view in first person limited and then shifts to third person point of view for the other half of the story, following Clete and other important characters through Southern Louisiana. The switch was not jarring and I actually really liked the variance in point of view. It gives the readers insight into the story and into Dave's character in particular. This really added to the complex crime narrative that was very well crafted. 

Speaking of characters--this is where the novel fell flat for me. Granted, this could be because this book is part of a series. It could be that the character development has happened in earlier novels and I just missed out from not reading the earlier stories. That being said, I found the characters to be fairly stock, archetypal, and empty. All the good guys had the same blunt, cold, logical personality with a few quirks here and there. All the bad guys had the same manipulative, seductive, and sociopathic tendencies. Good guys were the same. Bad guys were the same. I wasn't able to connect with any of the good guys because they just seemed to blend together. There wasn't anything significant or interesting about any one of them that I could hold onto. Some of the descriptions of the bad guys' appearances were interesting and unique, but their personalities were all the same. 

Characters are so important to me as a reader that I just cannot honestly say I enjoyed this read. I came really, really close to liking it because the plot was so interesting and I loved the descriptions of New Orleans and Louisiana. Perhaps if I had read some of the earlier novels, I'd have a better understanding of the characters and it would have been more enjoyable. So, my advice with this series is: start at the beginning. It is difficult to jump into it in the later books. 

2.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: None--it was a library book.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

67. "The Bone Garden" by Tess Gerritsen

Gerritsen, Tess. The Bone Garden. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.
487 pages
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

The Bone Garden was another one of those books that I bought to build a stack of beach reads. In The Bone Garden, Julia Hamill, recently divorced, buys an old house in Boston and discovers a skeleton buried in her back yard. After the story hits the newspapers, Julia is contacted by Henry Page who is a descendant of the previous owner of Julia's home. Together, he and Julia sort through boxes of old family heirlooms, newspaper clippings and letters to try and uncover the mystery surrounding the skeleton in her garden.

The Bone Garden has a second story arch. The narrative flashes between present time and 1830s Boston where Norris Marshall attends medical school. In a maternity ward, Norris meets Rose Conelly, an Irish immigrant and her sister Aurnia, who is dying of childbed fever. When Rose is witness to a murder, she and Norris are entangled in an investigation to hunt down a serial killer.

This book is a fun read. The sections  of the narrative taking place in the 1830s are much better developed than those set in the present. Julia Hamill experiences a cheeky romance with Henry's nephew that feels contrived and forced. The relationship between Julia and Henry is endearing but not much time is spent getting to know Julia herself. Her character is less of a protagonist and more of a plot device to connect the past to the present. This in itself is not necessarily a bad writing choice, but it did make Julie feel like a hollow and archetypal character.

Rose Conolly, on the other hand, is pretty interesting. She has a fierce devotion to her family and, Irish stereotypes aside, she's strong and easy to root for. The relationship between Norris and Rose also feels a bit rushed and contrived at points but the mystery of tracking down the serial killer, and Gerittsen's descriptions of medical practices in the 1830s were fascinating.

In all, I enjoyed this book. It certainly falls into the category of "beach read" because it was highly entertaining, but not something of high literary value. The next time I want an easy, quick, entertaining read, Gerritson's work will be at the top of my list of choices.

3 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: DONATED