Sunday, February 27, 2011

Starred Review-I Shall Not Hate, by Izzeldin Abuelaish

A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity
by Izzeldin Abuelaish
Walker and Company
January 4, 2011
$24.00, 256pp.

My Review

Many times I have asked myself, if there was a person I would like to meet, who would it be? After reading I Shall Not Hate, I can honestly say I would consider myself blessed if I were ever to meet Izzeldin Abuelaish. Dr. Abuelaish was born in 1955. He lived in Gaza, a Palestinian forced to live in a refugee camp that was under a blockade, a highly restrictive environment. He grew up living in extreme poverty but his dream was to become a doctor. He pursued education with an unwavering determination. He is now a highly respected doctor and specialist in his field. He also received a masters degree in public health from Harvard. When he lived in Gaza he worked in Israel, an unusual scenario being a Palestinian. On top of this his daily border crossing commute to work was arduous and exhaustive.

Until I read this book, I would not have realized the incredible obstacles he faced each day in order to practice medicine in an Israeli hospital. That he was deeply committed to helping his patients, regardless of their nationality and religious beliefs becomes evident. He is an infertility expert and he also works promoting women’s education.
Dr. Abuelaish has an enormous heart of compassion and the Hippocratic oath is embedded in his credo. It is so inherent that he sees medicine as the bridge and the example of lasting peace. Yet, this is not what makes this man so remarkable.

His book, I Shall Not Hate, is more than a title on a cover, it is his life’s canon. Three of his daughters, Aya, Bessan, and Mayar and his niece Noor were killed when an Israeli tank decimated his home in Gaza. Other members of his family were seriously wounded and getting them to a hospital was a monumental challenge. His words, his desperate pleas and cries shortly after the attack and discovery were broadcast live on Israeli television and captured on You Tube.

I ask myself, “Why does Dr. Abuelaish not hate?” To answer that you need to read his book. I can’t even begin to feel or describe his pain, it is so terrifying and unimaginable.

In his words:
“Hate is a chronic disease, and we need to heal ourselves of it and work toward a world in which we eradicate poverty and suffering. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich from hating one another.

First, we must join together to fight our mutual enemy, which is our ignorance of each other. We must smash and destroy the mental and physical barriers within each of us and between us. We must speak and move forward to achieve our brighter future; we are all living in one boat, and any harm to some people in this boat puts us all in danger of drowning. We must stop blaming each other and adopt the values of our, us and we.” ~Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (pg. 230)

Dr. Abuelaish is a brave and sensitive crusader of peace and human rights. His reflective and emotional memoir shows deep despair, yet it also reveals his inspirationally optimistic outlook to forging peace and understanding. Highly recommended as a 2011 memoir to read.

His website and foundation can be found at:

Walker and Company

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book by Library Thing as part of the Early Reviewer program. This review is my unbiased honest opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Monday, February 14, 2011

Blog Tour-Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, by Ruth Pennebaker

by Ruth Pennebaker
Berkley Trade
January 4, 2011
320 pp, $15.00

Synopsis from Berkley Books


“Joanie's ex-husband is having a baby with his new girlfriend. Joanie won't be having more babies, since she's decided never to have sex again.

But she still has her teenaged daughter Caroline to care for. And thanks to the recession, her elderly mother Ivy as well. Her daughter can't seem to exist without texting, and her mother brags about "goggling,"-while Joanie, back in the workforce, is still trying to figure out her office computer. And how to fend off the advances of her coworker Bruce.

Joanie, Caroline, and Ivy are stuck under the same roof, and it isn't easy. But sometimes they surprise each other-and themselves. And through their differences they learn that it is possible to undo the mistakes of the past.”~ Berkley Books

My Review

I must confess, when approached to participate in this blog tour, I was somewhat hesitant. This is not a book I would normally gravitate to. Contemporary women’s fiction, especially when quoted as “breezily hilarious” has me suspect. It’s like watching a movie intended to be a comedy, sometimes it is wildly entertaining as you nearly wet your pants laughing, or it falls flat and you wake up sometime later with a stiff neck. Either way in the end some body part hurts.
I prefer the former and when my stomach aches a bit and my emotions tingle with joy. Fortunately, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough is hysterical, a real hoot and simply refreshingly astute with a candid and humorous look into the lives of four unique women, generations apart.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough follows the interaction of four women, three are related daughter, mother, grandmother with an ex-husbands girlfriend thrown in the mix. (see publisher’s description for plot summary). Surprisingly, Pennebaker is able to capture the distinct personalities of each character, who are generations apart. Her intuition into each personality is flawless. She is a sagacious manipulator of dialogue, able to assume the role of each woman’s soul. The result is a funny and warmly believable story every woman should read. All women will find an aspect of this book to identify with as they embrace the universality of this story. Pennebaker has separated the generations shaping their specific ideology and attitudes . I thank this writer for capturing the universality of women’s difference with an eye for their commonality and the unique beauty of women’s kinship.

On the author’s website, Ms. Pennebaker says to buy three copies of this book, I agree, you will want to pass this one around to all the special women in your life. Highly recommended.

Ruth Pennebaker's website
Watch video

Disclosure: This book was a gift sent to me from the author.  The review for this book is my honest opinion, free from bias.  This book review is also presented as a part of a Blog Tour sponsored by:

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review-The Colors of Courage, Gettysburg's Forgotten History, by Mararet S. Creighton

Gettysburg’s Forgotten History
Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle
by Margaret S. Creighton
Basic Books
July 4, 2006
$17.50, 360 pp.

Synopsis from Basic Books (The Perseus Books Group)

In the summer of 1863, as Union and Confederate armies converged on southern Pennsylvania, the town of Gettysburg found itself thrust onto the center stage of war. The three days of fighting that ensued decisively turned the tide of the Civil War. In The Colors of Courage, Margaret Creighton narrates the tale of this crucial battle from the viewpoint of three unsung groups--women, immigrants, and African Americans--and reveals how wide the conflict's dimensions were. A historian with a superb flair for storytelling, Creighton draws on memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspapers to bring to life the individuals at the heart of her narrative. The Colors of Courage is a stunningly fluid work of original history-one that redefines the Civil War's most remarkable battle.~Basic Books, Perseus Book Group

Link to Book TV, C-Span2

Speech by Margaret Creighton, from Gettysburg College,First Aired January 29, 2006

My Review

The visit to Gettysburg a couple of summers ago as part of a graduate work in American History was an astonishing tour and recap of the course I was enrolled. This was my second visit to Gettysburg, although the content and experience was quite different from my trip there as an eight year old. At that time it appeared to me that we were visiting a lot of open fields, quite boring in fact. However, I was delighted when my siblings and I climbed climbing on top of a cannon.  I think I still have that picture. How different my second visit was. My professor, was passionate about the The Civil War, we were required to read Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson prior to the trip.  After the visit I took back a much different opinion of Gettysburg, my perspective and focus was no longer a child’s point of view, but an older, perhaps wiser, student and avid historian walking the hallowed grounds.  I couldn’t get enough of the history surrounding this small hamlet that was the epicenter of such violence and death.

While visiting the bookstore on site, I purchased Margaret Creighton’s book, The Colors of Courage.  I couldn’t pass this up. It was the title that immediately got my attention. I knew so little about her claim of “the forgotten history,” the invisible people she wrote about, the immigrant soldiers, African Americans and women. 

The Battle of Gettysburg took place over three days and considered by most to be the turning point of the war.  Creighton’s remarkably engaging narrative taken from letters, diaries, military records, primary and secondary sources creates a picture walk of history that took place during the days leading up to the battle, during and the weeks and months that followed.  I am thrilled to be able to take advantage of her extensive bibliography and notes included at the end.

We know the Battle of Gettysburg was a horrific bloody barbarous battle between the North and South. These two sides, two distinct armies met during the first days of July 1863 in the midst of a small rural town, that until then had no military significance. This book reveals what went on while the battles were being waged. Where were the residents?  What happened to the residents? What happened to their homes, fields and farms, that became the center of massive devastation and misery?  All African Americans, some who lived on the land of engagement known as Pickett’s Charge had to flee or hide so that they would not be taken as contraband by the Southern Soldiers. Their status of freeborn was irrelevant to Lee’s army.  African women and men often hid rather than run as monetary and other options impaired their ability to escape.  However, they remained very much an integral part of the scene, as they assisted with cooking and helped the white women of Gettysburg cook for soldiers on all sides.  Homes still occupied were in direct line of bullets pinging and canon discharges, the deafening explosions a constant accompaniment. 

I could go on, but would rather you experience the lives of those everyday people who lived in Gettysburg. Colors of Courage should be read by all Americans and anyone interested in a better understanding the impact of this war had on all people.  It is a powerful book that begs reflection as we face the xenophobia, racial & gender prejudice of the past that endured through this major battle yet still lingers today. With new material, Margaret Creighton has uncovered and added clarity to the stories of ordinary citizens and soldiers who were very much a part of the Battle of Gettysburg.  This is a phenomenal book that brings their clouded and overlooked past to life. My copy of the book is teeming with sticky tabs to note important passages. This is one intriguing history book that I call irresistible.

Margaret S. Creighton is a professor of history at Bates College in Maine.  She has written Rites and Passages: The Experience of American Whaling and is contributed and co-editor of  Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920.

Disclosure: I purchased this book in Gettysburg.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review-The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, by Ann Weisgarber

by Ann Weisgarber
Viking Penguin
336 pages
August 12, 2010

 Why is this little girl suddenly about to be lowered to the dark bottom of their well attached to a plank, while her mother stands above praying for Jesus to stay by her daughter’s her side?  The Personal History of Rachel Dupree opens with a disturbing image, frightening details of a six year old child conjure a number of possibilities as to why she is strapped to the plank. Weisgarber sets a foreboding tone with intense dramatic tension from the onset.  Questions bombard your metacognition with a compulsion to read on for answers. 

The story is about Rachel, a worker in a boardinghouse, who becomes smitten by the owner’s son.  Isaac Dupree,  an African American, is from a socially prominent family in Chicago.  His dream, to the disappointment of his domineering mother, is to own land out west and acquire a spread with considerable acreage. Isaac believes landownership will guarantee status and respect among his predominately white neighbors.  To Isaac, land makes the man, it means everything.   Isaac agrees to marry Rachel, in return, she will deed her allowable 160 acres to him. They make a pact to stay married one year as they journey to the Badlands of South Dakota to stake their claim. To Rachel love is the force that drives her, with a determination to make her marriage last beyond one year. 

The Badlands, a desolate and harshly brutal environment is not an easy life for most women.  The isolation can be miserable and lonely with the proximity of neighbors a distance away.  Yet, it is breathtakingly beautiful with majestic panoramic landscapes that appear infinite. Isaac is quite successful and his quest to acquire land has made him one of the largest landowners around.  

In 1917, after surpassing their one year anniversary by thirteen years, they are still married and a severe drought is threatening their world. Rachel is pregnant again and her family means everything to her. Survival in the Badlands is not easy for anyone, but Isaac Dupree has something to prove, he is on of the few African American ranchers around, and to him land earns him respect.  Rachel sees more opportunity for her children, wanting them exposed to city life. A fissure begins to widen between the two that threatens to fracture the family.

Weisgarber’s story is a moving memoir-like read of a pioneering women with tremendous strength and wisdom who faces tough choices. The dialogue flows with a natural rhythmic cadence you would expect to hear at this time. 

The Great Plains offered little support for the supplicant role of women, or the displaced Indians. You will embrace The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, a rich affecting read that will endure.

Disclosure: This book was a free copy sent to me by IRB for review. The review posted is my honest opinion and free of bias.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review-The Fort, by Bernard Cornwell..A Novel of the Revolutionary War

By Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins Publishers
$25.99, 480 pages, Hardcover
September 2010

This video snippet provided by Harper, features the author, Bernard Cornwell as he discusses his latest historical novel, THE FORT.

I was shocked to learn about this devastating naval defeat. It is considered one of the worst naval disasters in American History, second only to Pearl Harbor. It took place in the summer of 1779 at Penobscot Bay in Massachusetts, now a part of Maine. The British with only three small ships faced the enormous fleet of American naval power consisting of some forty ships at Majabigwaduce. Despite the odds in favor of the Rebels, they were defeated. Financially the loss today would is estimated to be the equivalent of about $300 million dollars. Further, Paul Revere is portrayed as an arrogant and obdurate general who would later be condemned and disgraced because of his conduct during this expedition.

What I value in Bernard Cornwell's historical novels is his persnickety predisposition to uncover the history behind the story. The framework for THE FORT begins with the history of the people and events. Then, he reassembles the facts with some embellishment, adding his unique vision resulting in absorbing and astonishing story. He takes a bold position in his novels, even when they are contrary to popular sentiment. After all, Paul Revere is legendary, a Revolutionary War hero in the minds of most Americans. Even though we have come to learn that Longfellow's poem of his midnight ride is a blurred truth, Revere's memory is still somewhat iconic.

I trust Bernard Cornwell's novels and consider them important narratives that add depth to the body of historical literature in print. Character point of view is essential in the overall understanding what happened during the Penobscot Expedition. What really happened? What went wrong? Whose to blame? Each character whether Rebel or Loyalist has a perspicuous role and Cornwell is able to portray both sides without a biased judgment.

Historical notes provide clarification and further details from the author’s research including additional resources for further study. THE FORT is historical fiction at its best, masterfully told with relentless intensity. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided free of charge by the publisher. My review is my honest and unbiased opinion.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Salon, February 6, 2011

What a week in the Northeast. We missed two days of school because of snow and had a two hour delay on a third day. We have eight days to make up so far with another two storms headed our way this week. The problem in my area is the terrain. Most of the area is hilly with meanduring turns, often steep, that are difficult for buses to navigate when snow covered. Most people need four wheel drive just to get up most hills. This year I have had a lot of time to think about some past memorable storms.

A Snowy Walk Home Before Cell Phones

One night many years ago, prior to my teaching career,  prior to cell phones,  I was heading home during an unexpected snowstorm that had quickly dumped about a foot of snow on the area roads. I left my job as a retail manager after a slow night, odd for the hectic holiday season, but no doubt snow had kept many frustrated shoppers indoors. In those days, malls rarely closed and four wheel drive vehicles consisted of mostly pickups and work vehicles. When I saw my car, I could just see a curly ribbon of light blue peaking out under what looked like a white puffy comforter.

Undaunted and accustomed to New England weather with its annual promise of perilous driving conditions, I cleared the blanket of snow and headed home. Very few cars were on the road and the ride took me onto main roads for the most part.  These were passable, not too slick, but you had to be careful and my car was front wheel drive.

The problem came when I got near home and approached the main snow covered sinuous slope. My stomach did flips of fear as a sense of foreboding took over.  I peered out the window as white snow missiles made the visibility tricky.   I had no choice, I had to get home and there was no other route. I heard my father's voice, as I remembered his lectures on winter driving.

I thought, "Here goes" and I prayed as I accelerated slowly up the hill, but my attempt failed.  I didn't make it. I was stuck and there was not a car or house in site. I was almost relieved that I didn't have to slip and slide in the car anymore.  However, as I faced the thought of my walk home I took inventory of my needs.

Ugh, I thought, here I am dressed in work clothes, a dress, wearing high-heeled shoes no less. Talk about being unprepared. I did have a hat and gloves so I wasn't totally clueless. You would think after years of Girl Scout training I would know better, but I was clearly not thinking during that time of my life.

My only choice was to leave the car and walk two miles that was mostly an uphill trek.  Each step seemed colder, more numbing than the next as I navigated piles of deep snow, icy pavement and slush with a vision of my warm house inching closer.The night was comforting in a peaceful way, hearing an occasional echo of distant snowplows clearing natures latest gift. My thoughts were random, my mood was angry and self-condemning followed by a period of acceptance and determination.

I remember promising myself that this wouldn't happen again. As my house came into view, I was grateful that I only lived two miles from where I abandoned my car.  I made it slowly but fortunately safe.  As I took this unplanned winter walk home, I vowed that I had to change some things so that my future walking was on my terms.  I arrived on my doorstep a snow-covered walking icicle, but thankful that my higher power was following me.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review-Black Swan, by Chris Knopf

A Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery
by Chris Knopf
The Permanent Press
May 2011
$28.00, 304pages

Synopsis from The Permanent Press

"A savage storm maroons Sam Acquillo, his girlfriend Amanda and charming nut-case pooch Eddie Van Halen on a nearly-deserted island off the tip of Long Island. Not just any island, but an enclave of old money eccentrics, xenophobic natives and a family of high tech refugees threatened by vicious mercenaries and secrets of their past.
Sam just wants to fix his boat and move on, but tempests both manmade and meteorological take over, and suddenly everything is on the line, including his own life." ~The Permanent Press

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Punxsutawney Claims an Early Spring! Yippee...........

Even though I am a lover of our New England climate and seasonal change, this past January has been a test to the heartiest of souls.  Enough fluff!  I for one am thrilled that this special  little marmot Phil made his annual appearance in Pennsylvania and predicted an early spring.  Is it because Punxsutawney want's to stay up for the the Super Bowl? Hmmmmm...

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Review-Original Sins, by Peg Kingman


Peg Kingman
W.W.Norton and Company
2010,HC, $25.95 416pp

Grace Pollacke is an artist, she paints portraits in miniature. Her husband arrives home to Philadelphia after being in China for several years. Traveling with Daniel is Anibaddh, The Rani of Nungklow. It is not the first time she has been in America for she is a runaway slave from Virginia. At great personal risk she has returned to establish a silk business, but this raises suspicion in Grace.

Grace, is a woman with a sharp intellect, well read in politics and literature, a rare find in 1840. Her current patron is Mrs. Ambler who is accompanied by her sister Mrs. MacFarlane. Engaged in a conversation about religion and slavery, Grace becomes disturbed with her subject, as her views are completely contrary. Anibaddh overhears the women and immediately recognizes their voices. They are the daughters of Judge Grant of Grantsboro Plantation and therefore Grace’s cousins.

When Grace steps in harms way to save her son, she realizes why Annibadh has returned. There could be only one reason she would risk her own life to sacrifice freedom: a child. Unaware of their common ancestral lineage, the woman invite Grace to visit Grantsboro to paint other family members. Realizing she can help Anibaddh with her maternal mission she accepts their request.

What follows is a complicated almost too coincidental yet thrilling story of Grace’s past and the discovery of her family’s slaveholding past and their unspeakable transgressions. Grace, is a character with vitality: bold, daring with unconventional thoughts and actions for the period she lives. As a painter, she is mesmerized by daguerreotype photography process and saddened by the newly installed gaslights in her city.
Original Sins, the author’s second novel is a deeply creative honest look at slavery and the ugly truths of human bondage that still emerge from America’s past. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: The copy of this book was provided at no charge by Historical Novels Review. This review was first published by HNR in August 2010.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].