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WRONG HIGHWAY: A Novel ~by Wendy Gordon

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Wrong Highway finds the reader at West Meadow, Long Island in New York about 1986 and we are thrust into a tale about two sisters; one a high energy mother of four who is very free spirited and the older sister a perfectionist mother of one who does everything just as responsibly as she is able.  We begin at the New York World’s Fair years before when Debbie is watching Erica enjoy the fair and dancing in a fountain scooping up coins.

Erica is not working outside her home, as her boys are 9 years, 5-year-old twins, and a new baby girl.  Her financial analyst husband is traveling all the time for his company and making a huge salary.  The family wants for nothing.  Erica is curious and busy driving the kids in Vance Volvo to their huge list of activities.  She plays with her children and enjoys them so very much.  She has a great deal of time on her own and fills it with exercise classes and beautiful clothes.

Debbie, a hairdresser, is worried about her son Jared, who is becoming a hyperactive and interestingly negative teen, who is experimenting with drugs.  Jared’s activities are counseling sessions, and doctor’s appointments and listening to music.  He wanders and cuts school a great deal and has stopped participating in sports.

Erica calls upon Debbie to rescue her when she has car trouble or needs emergency childcare.  Debbie calls upon Erica to befriend her son and help him through these troubled years.  Erica and Jared explore the friendship idea through smoking weed and heavy metal music.   Jared begins to open up about his strict parents and reveals a family secret, which Erica has been guessing about for years.  We travel through a world of Bah Mitzvahs and Sabbath dinners at their parents home.   It is quite a year; hold onto your hat and turn up the volume on the 80s hits you so enjoyed.

The author has found a new home for herself in Portland, Oregon as I think growing up on the East Coast was not her comfort zone.  She has captured the society and culture very well of the Eastern seaboard and all the programs and routines being practiced during this time period.  I think the story would be very different and yet similar if we were looking at the West Coast or the Midwest or South.  I think “weed” was being practiced in all those areas and fitness and teens were acting out after Vietnam too, but not so much “meanness” in the West.  We can witness the breakdown between the “haves” and the “have nots” beginning as it is captured in this small family paradigm.

I was in the early parenting stages during this time and the parents around me were beginning to struggle and making schools perfect for their child was just as important as having a garden and growing organic veggies.  Our kids were not being shipped off to so many activities, childcare, and camps but rather the parents were going to camps with their children and they wanted fun things to do that the parents enjoyed participating in as much as the children.  Family secrets were highly privatized to shield imperfections and the downward mobility financially.

Wendy Gordon has truly shared an interesting time period with quite a fascinating fictional story, which allows a look back and makes one want to turn up the volume and explore your old record collection.  What were we doing?  What were our secrets?  A very revealing read about family secrets and the effects of war on a society.

TLC Book Tours sent this book to Patricia’s Wisdom requesting a review.

From the Cover:
Wendy Gordon grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and lived in Boston, Chicago, and New York before finding her true home on the West Coast.  She received a B.S. in Nutrition from Simmons College and an M.S. in clinical Nutrition from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.  She has been a journalist for over twenty-five years, publishing in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet.  She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and children.  This is her first book.

Wendy Gordon Blog
Wendy Gordon Facebook

Related:
Whistling Women
Hidden Inheritance
The Qualities of Wood
Little Island

MY SWEET VIDALIA: A Novel ~Deborah Mantella

Monday, February 1st, 2016

With a character name like Vidalia, I knew I was reading a Southern novel and so I prepared for some fairly scary scenes and painful moments.   MY SWEET VIDALIA was the retelling of a classic Southern scenario of poverty; racism and ignorance with a few bright and optimistic characters that kept the book moving forward and offered some relief from the negative environment of the 1950s.

The writing was very good and the dialect was well captured.  I was glad that the book did not drag out into epic dimensions and Vidalia did find a redemptive quality in the end of the story to express and to prove herself to be compassionate and not so “dumb” as her background would lead you to believe.  Her capacity to grow and develop kept me reading all the way through.  Whew!  That was a relief.

I liked the story and felt the discomfort of being outside the events and not being able to cajole or persuade Vidalia to move on and let go of her trials.  How does one move someone out of such ignorance when they do not know any better?  In the beginning of the story, young Vidalia falls in love with a slimy fellow who plays on her naiveté, then marries her when she becomes pregnant and beats her growing baby out of her womb too early for survival.   Vidalia finds a way to keep her baby with her through the whole story and this “spirit child” becomes her support system.

On the cover of the book Susan Crawford, author of The Pocket Wife says
“ From its beautiful first words to its satisfying ending, MY SWEET VIDALIA is a unique, enchanting read.     Exquisite language, a cast of robust characters, and a solid and compelling plot keep readers captivated as Mantella straddles the thin line between poetry and prose, reality and either, fragility and strength.  With a deft and gentle hand, she navigates us through the travails of an impoverished young mother guided by her intrepid spirit child.”

I would place this story high up on the scale of good reads and a great weekend of escape reading, which took me back to my school days in the Deep South.  It was still a relief to leave these characters back in the 1950s and early 60s and find comfort in my more progressive environment of home.   I worked as a social worker in the South in the 70s and 80s and I am hard pressed to even think about returning for a visit.  I am sure my experiences prejudiced my reading of this story.

TLC Book Tours sent me a copy of this well-written story for review.

From the cover:
“A transplant to the South, Deborah Mantella has lived and taught in various cities in the Northeast and the Midwest.  Now a resident of Georgia she lives outside Atlanta with her husband.  Mantella is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club, the Author’s Guild, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators.  This is her first novel.”

Deborah Mantella Website
Deborah Mantella Facebook

Related:
The Wonder of All Things
The Mapmaker’s Children
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter
Flight Behavior

NOW EVERYONE WILL KNOW: A Memoir ~Maggie Kneip

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

“The Perfect Husband, His Shattering Secret; My Rediscovered Life”

McKinney PR, LLC (Larissa Ackerman | Claire McKinney PR, 41 Main Street Suite B, Chester, NJ 07930) sent me a copy of this book for review and it is quite the read about holding on to a secret for 20 years, denying a segment of a life and keeping a mythology alive.

“This is a book I just inhaled, I could not put it down… It will resonate with every woman who has something to hide – and that is most of us, myself included.” (Magee Hickey, News Reporter, WPIX-TV New York, cover)

Maggie Kneip was married to her dream husband and was the mother of 2 very young children when her husband collapsed and spent several years getting every cold that came along; having just one medical problem after the other. They finally got a diagnosis – AIDS.  When Kneip’s partner, before he was her partner, he had worked in Los Angeles and had explored the Gay lifestyle.  Now he was an editor at the Wall Street Journal and very highly respected and funny; giftedly bright.  He had tumors in his brain and an AIDS dementia, swollen legs, and a list of other problems.  Their son was less than a year old, and their 3-year-old daughter just could not understand.  He was dying and Maggie had to find a job and support her two children.

AIDS was a fairly unknown disease and the general population was very frightened, Maggie and the children were not carriers and did not have the disease, but they were discriminated against just the same because of the fear and the stigma.  The daughter shared about her Father at school and the other parents banded together to get her removed.  A conspiracy of silence began to keep the children safe from these attacks.  This silence left a big hole in the family until the family began sharing their story and Kneip began participating in creating awareness and support for other women on the AIDS journey. 20 years of silence.

It is a commanding read and quite an educational tool for informing and lessening the fear factor for others.

“Maggie Kneip was one of this country’s hidden women…who kept her husband’s deadly secret for more than two decades…Now she opens up for the first time in this stunning, beautifully written, and important book.”  (Joanne Lipman, journalist, editor, and co-author of Strings Attached – cover)

About the Author:

“Maggie Kneip is a veteran of the publishing industry, with more than two decades in publicity and marketing at Bertelsmann, Scholastic Inc., and Abrams Books.  She has performed as a singer at such Manhattan clubs as the Laurie Beechman Theatre and the Metropolitan Room.  Learn more about her at www.maggiekneip.com

Related:
Hidden Inheritance
Whistling Women
The Long Goodbye
The Bounce

HIDDEN INHERITANCE: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith ~Heidi B. Neumark

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

I was drawn into this story on the very first page of reading.  I agreed with Lillian Daniel, who wrote on the cover of the book, “This is a family tree worth climbing.”

Part Memoir and part detective novel this book is full of beautiful words and exegesis work, which is then perfectly meshed into current social justice issues which confront our daily lives.   There is an element where the book is also a great sermon playing out in one life and the extended family system; the examples are all personal stories of discovery and secrets explored.  How and why Neumark was called to become a pastor and work on human and justice issues within the confines of her family structures and shared experiences, was it just her environment or her genetics that allowed her to hear the call?

Neumark is called late at night by her daughter who is working on a graduate school project and discovers that her family is Jewish and is referenced on Wikipedia.  Neumark’s life had been centered on being a German Lutheran and not a Jew.  She knew her father was emigrated from Germany and now discovers that her Grandfather died in a Concentration Camp and that her Grandmother did not.  There were some of her family members still Jewish and still alive and that her Father had kept his secret even from her Mother and held on in silence to the whole story.

The book is Pastor Neumark’s journey to discover the truth and integrate the why and how her father became Lutheran and how that saved his life and his sisters lives also.  The beauty of scripture and poetry and theological concepts are penned into the story as she goes to the various sites of her family’s life in Germany and the layers of family are revealed and exposed – the silent conspiracy is broken and spoken into the pages with depth and caring.

“Hidden Inheritance will appeal to a wide gamut of readers; Christians with an interest in social justice, Jews and others interested in stories of the Shoah and its ongoing impact, those interested in issues of Jewish/Christian identity and dual identities, the impact of trauma and secrecy, readers of memoirs, and anyone interested in pursuing family genealogy. “ (From Media release)

The Meryl Zegarek PR firm sent me a copy of this book for review and I give it high marks for intelligent writing and interesting story and history.  History is well integrated into social justice and human needs and is explored on a personal level and as a well -researched understanding.

www.MZPR.com
Twitter @MZPR
Facebook.com/MerylZegarek

I have mentioned this book to nearly everyone I have encountered and now I share it with you.  It was a pleasure to read and contemplate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (From book cover)

“Heidi B. Neumark is a speaker and Lutheran pastor in New York City.  She is the author of the highly acclaimed book BREATHING SPACE: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, has published numerous chapters and sermons in other books, and is a regular contributor to THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY and other journals.”

Related:
Life From Scratch
When Women Were Birds
Wild
My Stroke of Insight