Saturday, January 28, 2012

Irish tales by a master storyteller from Northern Ireland

If you’ve never been to Ireland or Northern Ireland, once you read these 12 tales by Northern Irish writer Gerry McCullough, you will want to go. In fact, you will likely want to go to Donegal, find a pub and wait for a seanachie (Irish storyteller) to begin spinning his tales. 
“Whenever I can,” the narrator begins, “I like to spend a week, or even a long weekend, i Ardnakil, the small Donegal village where I used to come to visit my grandparents -- too many  years ago. And when I’m there, I take the opportunity to call in on old Seamus O’Hare. Seamus taught me everything I know about fishing,poaching, and the countryside.” With that, I knew I was in for a very enjoyable experience. And I was.
Seamus O’Hare is the kind of irresistible old rogue, but he’s the kind people love to sit and listen to for hours on end whenever the opportunity presents itself. Life is a lot less interesting without people like him. He's the kind of wise rogue that adds dimension to everyday life. I’ll be looking old Seamus up from now on. I hope Gerry McCullough has another collection of these charming tales coming out one of these days. They’re irresistible.
A definite  5 star read.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A powerful new book about the tsunami disaster in Japan in March, 2011

Keiko Takahashi: Beyond the Vast Wasteland: 24 Poems and Photographs of life after the Great Earthquake of East Japan. Tokyo, Sampoh Publishing Co;, Ltd, 2011. English translation by William L. Brooks, adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. Photographs by Kei Ogata and Hidesato Iwamura.
My wife and I became aware that something big was happening on March 11, 2011 when tremors began to shake our Sapporo condominium, and escalating in intensity. Turning on our TV, we watched in horror as the tsunami swept over a vast area sweeping everything in its path, then swept back again out to sea. I remember saying to her: “Honey, this is like watching a war unfold. Northeast Japan is under attack.” The visuals are still still chillingly awe-inspiring. I’ve never in my life seen such utter devastation unfold in so short a time.

Keiko Takahashi's poems are a fitting tribute to the people of Northeast Japan, beautifully written and each one matched with an unforgettable photo. 
“If this is not an outrage,” she writes in one of her poems “in requiem”, "What else can it be called?
Beyond anyone’s control
People, their homes, their land
Assaulted, smashed, butchered
And a brutal wasteland appeared.
Destruction before us
We know not what to do
We stand motionless.
Human beings
May be powerless.
But, what if
The prayers rising up from this darkness
And people’s actions that turn into prayers
Become a string of lights?
There I would see the only hope.
I would call this the ultimate miracle.” 
In another poem she writes,

“Let us now listen to the voices
Of innocent souls
That have fallen to their deaths in the ground. 

Voices continue to echo
In the land where everything was lost.
Walk the vast wasteland and beyond.”

In the final poem --

"People live in places
Where trials and tribulations swirl
Where light and darkness intersect
This is a wasteland that slopes mercilessly
Toward devastation and disorder.

Yet in such a wasteland,
People are walking,
Blazing a path of hope." 
These are hopeful poems, courageous poems, poems that challenge. And because they are, they apply as well to Gaza, Somalia and all other places where mindless violence sweeps with tsunami like force through land and lives. 
Much has been written and produced about the disaster, its aftermath, and the suffering, stoicism and spirit of the region’s people. Keiko Takahashi’s remarkable book is one of the best I have read. Published late last year in Japanese, it was released in English just this month. I've read through it several times. It's a book I'll return to time and again through the days ahead. 
A 5-star read.
Available online from Sampoh Publishing Company, Ltd., Tokyo at 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One of the most tragic fairy tales in modern fiction

Kathleen McKenna is a writer who grabs me with the first paragraph and won’t let me go until I’ve finished her tale. And this tale was, for me, very difficult to read.
A sad, tragic story of a young woman who is born into unbelievable riches, was “the apple of her father’s eye” in the same way his football team was: As long as she is presentable and didn’t embarrass the family name, she is lavished upon. When she became “an embarrassment”, she is cast aside like an old, worn-out toy by family and “friends”. 
The first “embarrassment” is that she was born female, not the “promised” son that her father expected his wife to produce. The second “embarrassment” was her developing juvenile diabetes, for which she needs an insulin pump. Not only is she not male, she is “defective”, and treated that way. Instead of love, she is given every material thing she wants, no matter what the cost until they tire of her. And then they throw her away.
Is Caroline (“Carey”) Kelleher an appealing character? In a strange way, yes. She is so pathetically lonely, broken and needy, so abused by her know-nothing parents, favorite aunt and “best friends”, that you want to rescue her and give her the love she’s never had. 
This is an outstanding new novel by one of my favorite authors. But it is not an easy one to read; no tragedy is. Buy it and read it anyway; it’s a good reminder that what people really want and need is genuine love, not the toys that all the money in the world can buy you. Like a former millionaire I once knew said: “It’s all just stuff" and it didn’t bring him happiness.
An unqualified 5 star read.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Two must have books on sexual abuse and recovery

Two remarkable books by a very remarkable woman named Stacey Danson. I recommend these without qualification to anyone who has been sexually abused, know anyone who has, works with sexually abused children, street kids or people who used to live on the streets as kids.

Stacey Danson is, to put it quite simply, a very remarkable woman. A victim of horrible sexual abuse at the hands of her monster mother, a runaway at age eleven who spent 5 years on the streets of Sidney, Australia, she is far, far more than a survivor, she is an overcomer. A recovering addict and alcoholic, she is one of the most compassionate women I know (and also one of the funniest and plain-talking), a mother and soon-to-be-grandmother with one of the strongest will-to-live of anyone I've known in my 77 years of life.

I reviewed her "Empty Chairs" back in January of last year. I just reviewed its sequel, "Faint Echoes of Laughter" here on my book blog and on Pick up your  paperback and Kindle copy now, and recommend both books to everyone you know. You'll be very glad you did. 

These are both 5 star reads.

A heartfelt, compassionate memoir by a champion overcomer

From age five until age eleven, when she beat up her mother and ran away and lived on the streets of Sydney, Australia for five years, Stacy Danson endured the most grotesque kind of child abuse at the hands of her mother there is. That story was told in her remarkable book Empty Chairs. Faint Echoes of Laughter tells the rest of the story. Heartfelt, tough and compassionate like she is, it is a book that should be read by anyone who has lived on the streets, lives on the streets now, works with those who live on the streets, or know people who do. 
Stacy Danson is much more than a surviver, she is fighter and an overcomer. She is also a remarkably compassionate woman, mother, soon-to-be grandmother and friend.
I spent over forty years in the mental health field, as a case manager, counselor, therapist and program manager. Faint Echoes of Laughter is the kind of book I wish we’d had back then to give to the kids who lived on the streets. Street kids will feel an instant bonding with her. Known as “Sassy” when she lived on Sidney’s streets, she’s tough, compassionate, smart and self-educated. She survived the streets, came off the streets, fought addictions, found love and a family, and refuses to let life’s circumstances defeat her. Hers is the kind of story abused children need to know.
If you’re a social worker, mental health professional, community organizer or someone else who works with abused street kids and others who have survived childhood sexual abuse, read this book and Empty Chairs, then put a copy into their hands. If I still worked in the field, that’s what I’d do. 
Stacey, you’re one of my heroes.
A very clear 5 star   review.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A book and a series that's sure to win a following

John Booth’s “House of Silver Magic”, is sure to become a favorite of readers who love stories about ghosts and sinister neighbors. In this gem of a book, a recently widowed mother and her three teenage children are kicked out of their house in a fraudulent auction. Soon after they learn that a man named Ezekiel has left them a large old house that is completely furnished, has some resident ghosts, creepy murderous neighbors, and is full of magic silver that the neighbors are determined to get at any cost. I found it a very enjoyable read, with lots of surprises, twists and turns, and a very interesting (and very odd-looking) group of house ghosts.
This is Book One in the Magic Series, which, if they’re anything like “The House of Silver Magic”, are books to begin looking for.
This is an excellent 5 star read.

A must read for anyone whose child is diagnosed with cancer

When your healthy, active child is diagnosed with cancer, what’s your first reaction? If you’re like most most people, you panic. That was Sheila Taylor’s first reaction when her bright, athletic, dreams-of-being-a-pilot youngest son saw a doctor for a nagging pain in his knee and was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He could lose his leg and he could die. What would happen to  his dream of being a pilot? What lies ahead for his parents and his two older brothers? How will the family handle it, especially since the treatment is in England and his parents live in Zambia?
In her book, Sheila Taylor takes you with her and her family as her youngest sons is diagnosed,  undergoes a series of chemotherapy treatments, has surgery on the infected leg, has more chemotherapy and keeps his leg and learns to walk again. But will he ever fly an airplane? Amazingly, yes.
If your child has been diagnosed with cancer, or you know someone whose child has, this is a book to recommend to them, or give to them as a gift. It’s not an easy journey, and Sheila Taylor doesn’t try to make it so. It’s a testament to her son’s never-give-up spirit, the skilled physicians who treated him, and a family who loves and fights for him.
A 5 star read.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A chiller of a thriller that Alfred Hitchcock would love.

“Obsession”, by British writer Nigel Lampard, is an intense psychological thriller that would make an absolutely chilling movie. One day happily married Matthew Ryan returns from a business trip to the brain-numbing news that his wife, Emily, doesn’t. love him any more, wants a divorce, is pregnant, the baby isn’t his (she’s been seeing someone else), and she wants him to leave. Stunned, he does. Some time later, still bewildered, he hires ex-cop, lawyer and private investigator Laura to see how Emily and her daughter are doing, because he still loves her and wants to know if she is alright and if there’s the sign of a man living there. There isn’t, Laura reports, Emily and her daughter are doing fine, and Emily hates him. How does Laura know? “I’m a good investigator,” she tells him. Soon after, she becomes Matthew’s lover and moves in with him. And then the fun begins.
Someone begins sending her threatening letters, she’s hit by a car in a neighboring town and ends in the hospital with serious injuries, she is terrified, there's an inconclusive police investigation, yet ... there is something about her that isn’t quite right but Matthew, against his better judgment ignores. She is so seductive and ... what is it? There’s something that just doesn’t quite add up. Think of all the chilling psychotic, psychopathic characters in novels and movies that you've read and seen, and there you have Laura. If I were Michael Ryan, I’d sell my house, change my name, and disappear. People like Laura give me the chills. There's also a cop named Wendy that I'd be careful of, too.
Nigel Lampard, author of the thriller Pooh Bridge, is one fine writer, and Obsession is a book that you won’t be able to put down until the very end. Nor will you be able to forget Laura. Nor will you want to.
A 5 star read.