Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

There was an old colonial settlement on Cape Ann, Massachusetts between Rockport & Gloucester. It was a place that was  filled with huge boulders left from a melting glacier thousands of years before. Not quite good farm land but developed just far enough away from the shore to discourage pirates and invading armies. The little community was filled with people of prominence and prosperity but after the war of 1812, the people of this community felt safe enough to move to the shore ( Gloucester) and left empty homes & buildings. These buildings were were soon inhabited by vagrants, widows, freed slaves & "witches" ! The widows of fishermen and military men kept plenty of dogs around for protection. Hence, the name Dogtown. It is also noted that many upstanding folks from the area felt that the vagrants lived life like dogs. These people of Dogtown scraped by with very little money, barely any food and very little heat in winter.
This novel is the fictional story of the lives of these people of Dogtown. Judy Rhines lived in Dogtown and took in sewing. She also had a little garden to grow veggies so she wouldn't starve . Meat mostly consisted of squirrel and other small creatures and there was always fish to be caught. Judy is maybe what you would call the main character in the book, although there are plenty others in Dogtown. Judy was  good soul and many peole came to her for help.  Judy also had a secret love. Easter Carter ran a pub in Dogtown. She was a good friend of Judy Rhines and another of the good people of Dogtown. There was brothel too, run by Mrs. Stanley.  Stanwood was a guy you didn't really want to mess with. A mean drunk and frequent visitor to Mrs. Stanley.
This book tells the tale of the lives that were lived and the people that died in Dogtown, right down to the very last person to live there , Cornelius Finson.
I must tell you, I lived in Gloucester for a few years and never heard the mention of Dogtown. I understand that many years after the demise of  Dogtown, Roger Babson, whose family owned the land, turned it over to the state so that now there rests a park. He also commissioned out of work stonecutters to engrave inspirational messages on some of the boulders. I understand that the cellars of the houses, which are now called cellar holes are all numbered with engraved boulders so that hikers can get a feel for the history of the area.
I highly recommend this book. I could not put it down . Anita Diamant also wrote another book that I highly recommend called The Red Tent. Excellent reading. I  have just downloaded a sample of another one of her books
called Good Harbor. Good Harbor is a beach in Gloucester, so I am anxious to get reading another great novel.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: The Astral by Kate Christensen

My little neighborhood  library is such a source of joy ! Another great book.

The Astral is the name of an apartment building in Brooklyn, NY.  The Astral is where poor old Harry Quirk got kicked out of by his wife, Luz. She had accused him of having an affair with his best friend, who just happens to be an attractive , creative woman named Marion. Poor old Harry has two children. A gay daughter Karina, who is tuned into a "freegan" lifestyle. She is basically a dumpster diver , who gets most of her groceries and furnishing from other people's trash. His son, Hector, is a lost soul who has turned up on Long Island living with other lost souls, lead by the cult leader ( former stripper & con artist) Christa, who he is engaged to be married.
Harry is a poet. He never really worked a day in his married life. His wife Luz  is a nurse and supports the family. Harry has been published and writes infequently for magazines, so he is not without some income, but very little. When we first meet Harry, after he has been thrown out, he is living in a fleabag boarding house. He then moves into Marion's place, which drives his wife Luz even further over the edge. His daughter Karina wants to rescue her brother from the cult and needs Harry's help. Luz will not even speak to Harry, although he does stalk her a bit, so father & daughter head to Long Island without mom.  They discover that Hector is being treated as the second coming and living quite the life.
Harry has a network of friends where he finds food & shelter and jobs. All very interesting people, all seeing the same therapist. And all the women have decided that Harry was having an affair with Marion and all the men feel he was crazy not to have had an affair with Marion.
This book is full of characters, which are quite the characters. I found I couldn't put the book down, I just wanted to know where & with whom Harry ended up. At the end of the book , I was still wondering why Harry left his bike chained up in front of the Astral. I am hoping it is because there is a sequel. Highly recommended.  Will be checking out another of this author's books !

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

I have not read this author before, so I had no idea what to expect. I picked this book up on my library's shelf of
 new(er) fiction. Looked interesting and the library was closing in 10 minutes, so a quick decision. That was on late Saturday afternoon. By Sunday night, I was reading the last few pages and looking the author up on line so I could see what else she had written. A very good book.
This is the story about Quinn Braverman, married mother of a little boy, pregnant with a little girl. Daughter of a mother that committed suicide, a few years before. Her mother, Nan, was a fairly sucessful artist, an intelligent woman, who happened to be bi-polar. Sister to brother Hadley, who does quite well when he is on his meds.
The book begins with a startling event. Nan who is pregnant with Quinn, tries to take her life and at the last minute calls for help. Both barely survive. But they do.......
Quinn has always sensed that she lived another life...that there was another life that ran parallel to the one she was in and that she could reach that other life by crawling through a crack or fissure in a wall or a floor. When she was young, she and her brother were horsing around on pile of dirt and she fell into a foundation and got injured. As she lay there, she saw a crack in the foundation and her arm went right through to the other side. Her brother saw it, too.
When she gets her sonogram for her own daughter, the doctors discover that the baby will be deformed. This sends Quinn into a tailspin, and she finds a crack in her wall under her pull down ironing board in the basement. (I know that sounds weird) She travels to the other life. The road not taken, where she is living with a needy famous radio host and her mother is still alive. She escapes from  a life where she loves her husband and son but the news about her daughter weighs heavy on her heart. She escapes because she needs her mother.
I recommend you read this book, it is very good. I don't like the science fictiony stuff, but I looked at it as not a physical crack in the wall, but as a mental/emotional  crack in the wall. I think we all wonder "what if". I always say I would love to go back for just one day, to tell my parents that I loved them, no matter what. To tell my friends that I would always remember them. To "fix" anything I could in that one day. "What if..."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Life is So Good by George Dawson & Richard Glaubman

Happy New Year. Unfortunately, I spent the better part of the holidays battling a virus, which kept me in bed with the TV on. I was watching the OWN channel and Oprah was doing  a review of memorable people that she had met over the course of her 25 years. One person was George Dawson, who at age 98, went back to school to learn to read. She then mentioned that he went on to write a best selling book, so I grabbed my Kindle and read a sample. AND then immediately bought the whole book. I read many reviews of the book before I read the sample and most found the book very inspiring. Many people said that this book should be read by all school children, so I had to see for myself.

George Dawson was born in 1898, in the South, a grandson of slaves. His parents owned a small farm of their own and George started work on that farm at four years old. At eight he witnessed the lynching of a family friend. At twelve he was sent by his parents to another farm to work and lived in a small shack outside of the farm owners barn. The shack had a straw mattress and he was given a thin blanket and fed twice a day while working the fields from before sun up to after sun down. His parents expected nothing from George but to work hard, respect people, be thankful for what he had and to stay out of trouble. George did exactly that all his life.
There is no way I can express how good this book is. It is something everyone needs to read and contemplate on their own. It is a book of hope, strength and perservance. It is a book that speaks of  injustices and man's inhumanity to man.
This is a book about taking what life hands you and making the best of it.