“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The stolen marriage” Diane Chamberlain

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook.St. Martin’s Press. To be published October 3, 2017. (Includes “Author’s notes and Acknowledgements.”)

TheStolenMarriageIn 1943 twenty-three year old Tess DeMello was set to marry Vincent, the love of her life, in their Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore where they’d grown up together. He had become a doctor and she was studying to be a nurse so, when a severe outbreak of polio struck children in Chicago, Vincent volunteered his services for several months. His absence set the stage for Tess to visit Washington D.C. where she met Hank Kraft, a rich furniture maker from Hickory, a small North Carolina town. When she becomes pregnant she abandons Vincent, marries Hank, and moves to Hickory.

Hatred from her mother-in-law, as well as from Hank’s sister, former girlfriend, and all their friends greeted her, causing loneliness to cloud her every move. In addition, Tess soon realized Hank seemed to be hiding secrets, and had no feelings for her. Anxious to find a way to relieve the pressure of her marriage, Tess disobeyed Hank to volunteer her services as a nurse at the hospital the town built in 54 hours when polio struck their part of the state.  There she learned to stand on her own again, finally able to become the person she was meant to be.

Many themes are at work in this book, ranging from infantile paralysis (what polio used to be called), religion, mediums, relationships, racial inequalities and more. Readers will definitely have much to ponder, making this a great choice for a book club.

As a child my mother suffered from polio in the mid 1940’s, which caused her to be in a leg brace. To this day, she still has problems with that leg. This is the first book I’ve ever read about infantile paralysis/polio, which helped me understand what she and thousands of other children had to endure. Thank you Diane Chamberlain for enlightening readers on the subject through your excellent research and, of course, a huge round of applause is reserved for Jonas Salk.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“The Warrior” Joyce Swann

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2013. Frontier 2000 Media Group.

TheWarriorElizabeth is a prayer warrior, praying for anyone for whom God has called her to pray, though no one in her family or church feels the same way. After dreaming of a young stranger’s terrible motorcycle accident, she feels as if she must pray. Over the next 10 years she prays for him, recording each prayer encounter in notebooks.

Her daughter Molly, though lovingly raised in a Christian home and given everything money can buy, feels as if all Christians are hypocrites. Choosing to rebel against her upbringing, she leaves home to pursue her own life, which involves breaking all her parent’s rules. Over the years she will have to learn if the happiness she seeks can be found in her newfound freedom.

James grew up in a family who went to church because it was expected, not because they believed. As he grew older, the lure of drugs drew him further away from his parent’s ordinary life. When a judge shows him mercy and he winds up in a Christian support group, James decides to fool them into thinking he’s changed.

As Molly and James struggle through temptations brought on by their own actions, the power of prayer and God’s love are shown as constants. In this overtly Christian novel, Bible verses and sermons give food for thought to those walking the same paths as James and Molly while giving hope to readers who are also prayer warriors.

Recommended for Adults.

“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“From where I watch you” Shannon Grogan

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Soho Teen. 291 p.

FromWhereIWatchYouSixteen-year-old Kara is angry with her dead sister and with her mother. When Kellen died, her father left home and her mother retreated into a shell until she found religion. Her newfound faith changed her into a Holy Roller, offering advice and words of hope to strangers in her new cafe, while ignoring her own daughter. Kara doesn’t mourn Kellen because she hated her, hinting at something Kellen did which was unforgivable.

Kara bakes all sorts of baked goods to forget her problems, spending time alternately hurting and loving Charlie, the only boy who’s ever been nice to her, and trying to ignore scary notes randomly left on a daily basis by a stalker. Despite numerous opportunities to take others into her confidence, she continually assures herself she could handle the situation. By the time she realizes she’s in over her head, it’s almost too late.

In alternating chapters readers take a very slow ride through Kara’s memories growing up with Kellen, leading up to the unveiling of her stalker. However, I was not impressed. I found Kara to be annoying because of the countless excuses she gave for not seeking help as the notes got progressively worse. Always second-guessing herself, she also didn’t have any self-confidence. The most interesting character in the book was Charlie.

Thus I will leave it up to you readers ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not. I seem to be on a bad roll, as this is the fourth book in a row that didn’t thrill me.

“Mercy’s Rain: An Appalachian Novel” Cindy K. Sproles

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Kregel Publications. 263 pp.

MercysRainMercy lives on the side of a mountain in rural Tennessee with her father, the local Pastor, and mother. She and her mother have spent their lives being physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Demons reside in his soul, which encourage him to kill, torture, and beat anyone who crosses his will without a morsel of regret.

Mercy is 19 years old when she witnesses her father kill an innocent man, and participates in his death through the mountain’s code of justice. After her mother sends her away, Mercy wanders the mountain in search of redemption and finding a purpose for her life. As she struggles to understand her role in God’s plan, Mercy continually hardens her heart as she seeks forgiveness for her role in her father’s death.

As I read, I was aghast at the many awful ways the Pastor abused his wife and daughter in the name of God and religion. It is with deep shame that I note this type of behavior is probably happening all over the world. I found it quite unfortunate that Pastor’s flock allowed his spiritual leadership over them to close their eyes to his behavior, leaving Mercy and her mother completely under his thumb of control.

What really annoyed me about “Mercy’s Rain” was Mercy. It seemed as if every single chapter she begged the Lord to show her what to do or how to act, filling the pages with a litany of complaints and questions. When God answered, Mercy spent time thanking him for helping her to “get it” then spent the next chapter complaining about the exact same thing she’d been thanking Him for doing for her in the last chapter. She was a ridiculous merry-go-round of grievances, and quickly grew tiresome. I think Sproles could have gotten her point across about Mercy needing mercy and forgiveness in half of the 263 pages it took to drag us through her whining.

Despite Mercy’s inability to make a decision with her life, I will recommend “Mercy’s Rain” only because it shows the importance of knowing you are not alone when facing trials and tribulations, and that abused women need to seek help immediately.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a complimentary copy of “Mercy’s Rain” from LibraryThing.com in exchange for an honest review.

“Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility” Mary McManus

Rated 4 stars **** 2014. Createspace. 236 pp.

ComingHomeMary McManus incorporates memories, as well as present-time events, to tell the story of her life after contracting polio at the age of five. Despite recovering from this disease she faced years of physical, mental and emotional abuse from her parents and grandmother.

Over the years the stresses brought on by these abuses accumulated in her body causing severe physical problems, and resulting in a diagnosis of post-polio syndrome when Mary was just a few years away from retirement. Physicians and therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as other health caregivers, worked together to give Mary the spiritual, physical and emotional strength she needed to heal her body from its trauma.

Determined to do something meaningful with her newfound feeling of mental and physical strength, Mary decided to run the 2009 Boston Marathon to raise money for Spaulding Rehab. Triumphantly crossing the finish line of the marathon was just one of Mary’s many accomplishments described in “Coming Home,” as she valiantly worked to regain the person she had lost at the age of five and rewrite her past.

Mary is a fellow member of my running club, the L Street Running Club in South Boston. After reading her self-published life story, I have to salute the courage and strength she displayed in working through extreme trials which a young girl should have never had to endure, and which led to the beautiful and generous person she has become today. Mary, you are a survivor and I salute you!

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know I try not to read self-published books because of the amount of grammatical errors usually contained within them. However, since Mary was generous enough to donate part of the proceeds of her book to a reputable charity, and is a fellow club member, I felt I should read her book and learn about her story. I was able to put aside my editing hat and read Mary’s story for its rawness and truthfulness. I gave it a 4 star rating for its content, and trust you will agree when you read it.

Recommended for Adult readers.