Book Talk

A second sampling of snail-mail Book Talk letters I’ve received with my replies and the books they recommend for us to read.

Dear MaryJane, I love your magazines! Just wanted to let you know I have read four of Kathleen Shoop’s books as advertised in your magazine and greatly enjoyed them. Oh wait, now I remember, I think I have actually read eight of them 😊 The library here in Florida doesn’t have all of them. I’m anxiously waiting and hoping they will soon. Blessings to you! A wife and mom,  Rachel Byler

Dear Rachel, Thank you for sharing with me that you have read eight of Kathleen Shoop’s books. That’s quite a few! I am delighted to hear this. I, too, love to read because it’s so incredibly calming, and it transports us to other worlds and lives. I hope your Florida library will add to its collection and you will have opportunities to read more of her books. I am so very happy to hear that you love my magazine. With love and admiration, MaryJane

Dear MaryJane, I was so happy to see the section on donating books to various groups! That is awesome. Since I have no computer to submit on-line, I am using the “old-fashioned” method. Thank you for that option. One of my favorite books, and author, is Country Chronicle, by Gladys Tabor. She writes about Stillmeadow in a Connecticut farmhouse, and all the seasons of the year while living there. It is a calming, peaceful book to read, as Gladys captured her home, land, and wildlife living there. She has a way of telling just how things are. You can almost smell the iris and picture the landscape there at Stillmeadow. I get her book every year or so from our local library, to enjoy her “story telling” of her adventures there. Hope you might get time to look it up, and perhaps be able to read her book. I really think you would like it, and her writing. There are even recipes in the book, and she also wrote cookbooks! Thank you again, Sandy Riley

Dear Sandy, you have certainly caught my attention with your description of Stillmeadow by Gladys Tabor. I love wildlife living and my irises are getting ready to bloom on my property along Iris Lane! I’m looking out the window at my prairie as I write this and think I need to curl up with a cup of tea and a copy of Country Chronicle. An apple pie baking in the oven would also sound great. Thank you for sharing and when I have some spare time I’ll try to read it. With love and admiration, MaryJane

Dear MaryJane, I have read the February-March issue of MaryJanes Farm and particularly enjoyed the article on books. I love books and love to read and have many of the selections listed in the Farmgirl Book Club. I must tell you that my library does not always purchase many of the books you list but I have managed to read several. These are books I have read during the winter here in northern Arizona (February 2024): Where the Jessamine Grows by Donna Everhart. This was well-written and researched and covered a tense period in our nation’s history. There was excellent character development, as well as a captivating story line that held my attention. It doesn’t matter where a war is fought, or for what reason, it leaves long-lasting scars and doesn’t necessarily address or solve the issues over which it was fought. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garamus. This was set in my era of high school of the 1950s and I could totally relate to the story line. I really enjoy mysteries and Survive the Night by Riley Sager fit the bill. Another of his titles, The House Across the Lake was even better. Super Cats by Ashley Morgan is all about cats and not just about their antics but also about their ability to be protectors – a good book. A Brilliant Life by Rachelle Unreich. She writes a hard to believe memoir regarding her mother’s survival of the Holocaust and death camps. Keep up the good work – I always find something new that I can use in each issue. Maybe one of these days I will make it to your farm. Sincerely, Therese Gribbins P.S. I am not on Facebook – but I do text and have an email account.

Dear Therese, I am delighted that you are sharing with me your love of books! I am also delighted to learn that you have read many of the selections listed in the Farmgirl Book Club! Thank you for sharing that you always find something new in each issue of the magazine. I love to provide new information, so this warms my heart.The daffodils are blooming on the farm. You should see them; they are abundant and lovely. Soon, the irises will be in bloom, and I can’t wait. With love and admiration, MaryJane

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Book Talk

A sampling of snail-mail Book Talk letters I’ve received with my replies and the books they recommend for us to read.

Hello MaryJane. The book I have just read is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The reason I liked this book was because it explained that it is important that we treat the Earth with honor and we need to protect nature. Plants can be our teachers. The author has made this book so interesting, it was sad when the book ended. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a professor of Botany and a member of the Potawatomi nation. Highly recommend! -Vicki Dieter, Wisconsin

Dearest Vicki, Thank you for your book recommendation, Braiding Sweetgrass. I’ve posted it on my journal for others to enjoy. I read Braiding Sweetgrass a couple of years ago. I liked it so much that I also listened to the audible version when driving to town. It was an important book for me because I manage a 115-acre native plant prairie and wildlife preserve. Her words are with me daily as I consider my challenges and make decisions. With love and admiration, MaryJane

Hello! MaryJane! I just decided to subscribe to your magazine. I’ve seen it on display at the grocery store for years. I thought maybe it was a “hokey” text when I bought it, but it only took a quick scan before I decided to also give it as a surprise subscription to a lady I’ve known since the ’70s, as a thank you to her. She’s an avid horsewoman in her ways (as is her husband she married 40+ years ago as an older individual). It’s not often you find something so unique. I’m looking forward to my new publication! I recently decided to try, at 75 years of age, to grow something I’ve always loved – TOMATOES! Not just any tomato though. I am looking for seeds that grow at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy – PIENNOL. I haven’t yet found them, but I will. They are PULPY, and that’s what intrigued me to read your magazine (“Coat from the Storm,” MaryJanesFarm Feb/Mar 2024). I started perusing your letter about WORDS! And saw your gracious comments about if one reads this or that, you’ll donate a free book! I’m SOLD! I’ve been letting all my magazine subscriptions expire because I’m moving to try to grow – TOMATOES and LAVENDER – but not for 2 years. It looks like your “print” is a flashback to when I started to read in 1951 as a 3-year-old. I still love Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as my favorite book and the movie – the original one with June Allyson and Peter Lawford. Something about how you lay out your stories, the whole magazine, gave me a ‘warmth’ in my heart. And when I saw the picture of the 100-year-old ‘mom’ sent by Debbie through email, I knew why she was so engrossed with it! You’ve hit a GOLD MINE, not for money though you’ll undoubtedly always be in PRINT, but you’ve found a way to CAPTURE that unique USA hopefulness we felt as citizens in the 50s right after WWII.  I thank you and think all those other previous editions I’d seen on the magazine rack made me a bit sad in my tummy that I hadn’t read them. But you’ve got a lifer NOW! Thank you, for keeping the feeling of life learned, earned, and lived – at least for me. And I was touched by your story on WORDS. In 7th grade Latin, an obnoxious teacher (at least to me, a 7th grader) freed me to be in a Latin Fair in the Spring of 1961. I would have preferred to do the Science Fair on weather. Anyway, what a wise lady she was. She came to me after class, when I had received a superior medal from the fair, and she smiled widely. I wasn’t her pet; the 2 boys were – both named JOHN (but one spelled his name JON) and they both were so handsome and smart. We used to talk before and after class. I had moved from Michigan at age 11 to Utah and didn’t know anyone. In 1960-1961, these two boys liked that I was smart and were congratulating me on the superior medal I had won, when the teacher came up to the three of us and said WORDS have ROOTS that basically come from ancient Greek and Roman Latin. She told us we would be very successful in life. We were just 7th graders and wondered why she had picked us out. She told us that words, knowing what they mean, where they come from, and how to use them correctly in our written homework, and in life, would allow us to OWN the WORLD! I, and the two boys (JOHN/JON) were only able to nod. We were just 3 little kids who were barely able to pay for lunch in 1960. There wasn’t a system then to make sure children could eat. No lie, she said OWN the WORLD! It meant nothing to any of us at that time. Your article about words brought back how much I’d ‘fallen in love’ with education. Both boys left school after the 7thgrade, and I don’t know where they moved to, but they were gone the following year. I’ve always wondered where they went because strangely, even being a new child in the West, the kids I went to school with in junior high, high school, and college, meant something to me. I still love those students, even the ones I didn’t get to know. Strange how something you read, put out as a publication by a stranger, can help you close a gap. Well, again, I still need to read your publications and they are something I will look forward to for many years to come. You truly touched not just a nerve, but my heart! So, happy day to you and your staff!  I’ll read one of the books from the Salvation Army and let you know what I think of it. I’m so glad you’re in Moscow, Idaho! So Close! I do not own a computer or cell phone – I’m OLD school – but I will eventually – maybe later when I am OLD. HAH! Thank you! -Pat Gormley, Utah

Dearest Pat, Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I am so happy that you decided to thumb through my magazine at the grocery store and you will now be a MaryJanesFarm “LIFER!”  Thank you for sharing your stories of 7th grade; your teacher, the Latin Fair, and the two handsome young John/Jon classmates. I agree with your teacher that words allow us to OWN the WORLD! I can tell you have a huge heart, and your stories have certainly warmed “my” heart. With love and admiration, MaryJane

Dear MaryJane, Hello from the NC Coast! I absolutely love your magazine!! Our Book Club (called WWF-not wrestling, but Wine, Women & Fiction) recently read Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. It’s an excellent book about family secrets, the strength of women, and love. Siblings Byron and Benny experience their mother’s wild journey from childhood through her death due to a puzzling inheritance. The picture on this notecard is an actual Black Cake made by Cathy (book club member who hosted the meeting and led our discussion). It was delicious!! This traditional Caribbean family recipe reminded me of my family traditions – all those good PA Dutch foods I grew up with in PA. I think you will enjoy the book – make sure you have some cake!! Our book club has been together for 24 years. It’s an amazing group of women – actually we are more like a circle of sisters. We meet monthly (even met during COVID – setting up an outdoor circle with our chairs 6 feet apart! 😊) We’ve read so many good books over the past 24 years. I enjoyed your article on reading the book Breath. I love every page of your magazine. Hugs & Blessings, Karen Cartlidge, North Carolina

Thank you for your book recommendation, Black Cake. It sounds like a wonderful book! I am impressed to learn that your book club (Wine, Women & Fiction) has been going strong for 24 years – even during COVID! That’s quite an accomplishment. Isn’t it wonderful to have a group of women who are like sisters to you? I enjoyed reading that Cathy made an actual Black Cake for your meeting and I appreciate that you sent me a photo of the cake. Thank you! With love and admiration, MaryJane

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    My friend just spoke with me this morning about the “Braiding Sweetgrass” book. She is currently working on her degree in environmental studies and is very passionate about it. She was wanting us to read it together this summer. I look forward to seeing what it’s all about.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Downtown Ducks

Reading this book will make your day. And if you give it as a gift, you’ll be doing the same for others, and then when your recipients call to tell you it made their day, you’ll get a made day all over again. It’s the applause kind of ripples-on-a-pond story (actually the Spokane River in Washington) that we can’t seem to get enough of. Thank you to the banker, who in real life rescued the paddling of ducklings, catching them one by one midair, and the onlookers who cheered him on. Thank you to the author, an attorney, who decided to rally his mother, age 79, and his daughter, age 12, to help him illustrate it. And if you’re a boomer like me, who raised a brood of children reading them the classic 1941 Make Way for Ducklings book about a pair of mallards who raised their brood in the Boston Public Garden and a police officer who stops traffic for them, you’ll probably still remember reading this out loud hundreds of times: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Quark, Quack, and Pack. And you might even remember that the bronze statue of the ducks that was erected in the Boston Public Garden took on global ramifications when Barbara Bush gave a duplicate statue to Raisa Gorbechev as part of the START treaty. Now we’re talking world diplomacy, which is exactly where The Downtown Ducks is headed, because the event has already made front-page news in the UK and none other than the Whitehouse called to congratulate all involved for such a positive story. During the past few weeks, I’ve taken my morning tea in the company of a Mallard couple, this year’s residents on my pond. For me, they represent all that’s right in the world and rightly so. The Downtown Ducks does likewise; it encourages us to continue paddling against current strife and angst, underwater, just beneath the surface, as fast as we can. 

By Roberta Simonson

In May 2008, Spokane banker Joel Armstrong had been keeping tabs on a mother duck and her 10 eggs, nested on the concrete awning outside his second-floor downtown office window, for weeks.

One morning, Armstrong watched as the mother mallard flew down to the sidewalk and started quacking up at her day-old ducklings, at least 10 feet above. The first fuzzy bird waddled to the ledge’s edge and leapt.

Normally, Armstrong said, he doesn’t interfere with nature.

“But then I saw one hit (the concrete) and bounce … my heart just opened and I had to go out and help.”

Armstrong ran outside, stood under the awning and caught the ducklings one by one before setting them on the sidewalk with their mother. Then he escorted the entire duck family – the first duckling was stunned but lived – to the Spokane River.

Nearly 16 years later, in 2024, another Spokane man, attorney Richard Repp, has preserved Armstrong’s 2008 heroics in a children’s book, “The Downtown Ducks.”

“I just always thought it was such a cute story, I just thought, well, that’s a perfect children’s story,” Repp said. “The building where it happened, the Cutter Tower, my office was in the US Bank building right next door … everyone was talking about it at the time.”

Indeed, after an email chronicling the event went viral, Armstrong’s actions, which he repeated when the mallard nested there for a few more years, received national and even foreign attention.

“A lot of people just were enthralled by the story,” Armstrong said. “It was during a tough time in the banking industry, and it was some really good, positive news just to make people happy.”

Repp referenced 2008 and 2009 Spokesman-Review stories about Spokane’s “duck guy” when creating “The Downtown Ducks.” In 2009, the ducklings hatched on the same day as the Lilac Parade.

“2009 was the year that the parade was involved; 2008 was the year that it first happened. I took some artistic license and I tried to just combine the two years into one story,” he said.

Though Repp wrote the book alone, he illustrated it with the help of his mother Mary, 79, and daughter Anya, 12.

“I wanted my mom to be involved as a sort of a legacy for my mom because my mom was an artist that really contributed to my interest in art and books,” he said.

Growing up, Repp wanted to be a cartoon artist.

As for his daughter, “she already enjoyed doing art and so this was kind of fun for us, to be sitting at the kitchen table together, doing it together,” Repp said. “She was one of the ones that kept sort of egging me on, like, ‘When are you gonna finish your book, Dad? When are you gonna finish your book? I want to see it.’ ”

Repp wrote and illustrated the book over several months starting in winter 2022. When he made some copies via Shutterfly and distributed them to friends and family in 2023, “they loved it.”

“A lot of people were surprised to have learned that I could even draw because I haven’t really used my drawing in years,” he said. “Initially this was just a gift for family, but it was so well received, and people embraced it and I was like, ‘OK, well, if people enjoy it, let’s share.’ ”

Repp reached out to Armstrong in the fall and told him about the book. Armstrong bought copies for himself and his family.

“I thought it was a great job just telling the story, but I loved his artwork because he did it himself,” Armstrong said. “He’s a great artist.”

In writing “The Downtown Ducks,” Repp hopes to ensure the survival of Spokane’s duck story.

“Over time people forget about news stories, but there are certain children’s books that last forever,” he said. “I read ‘Curious George’ to my children and Dr. Seuss to my children. It was the same books that I read when I was a child.

“For me, creating a children’s story was a way to preserve the story and to pass it on to my children. It’s just such a fun, heartwarming, happy, feel-good story. I think it’s important to preserve it.”

“The Downtown Ducks” can be purchased online at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walmart or ThriftBooks.

Roberta Simonson’s reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This children’s book sounds adorable. I love how it’s based on a true story and about the small and joyous things just outside our window. It really made my heart melt. My kids and I will have to read this book!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow is a bestselling book, recently turned original series from Paramount, and for good reason … it’s joyful. And oh, so beautifully written. After reading Amor Towles’s Gentleman, I immediately read two more of his books: The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility. Please, please, please, Amor, don’t stop writing books!

Gentleman, practically speaking, is about mastering practicalities and finding joy in your daily-ness, your routines, while keeping your head in the clouds. Lovely.

“Having acknowledged that a man must master his circumstances or otherwise be mastered by them, the Count thought it worth considering how one was most likely to achieve this aim when one had been sentenced to a life of confinement.

For Edmond Dantes in the Chateau d’If, it was thoughts of revenge that kept him clear-minded. Unjustly imprisoned, he sustained himself by plotting the systemic undoing of his personal agents of villainy. For Cervantes, enslaved by pirates in Algiers, it was the promise of pages as yet unwritten that spurred him on. While for Napolean on Elba, strolling among chickens, fending off flies, and sidestepping puddles of mud, it was visions of a triumphal return to Paris that galvanized his will to persevere. 

But the Count hadn’t the temperament for revenge; he hadn’t the imagination for epics; and he certainly hadn’t the fanciful ego to dream of empires restored. No. His model for mastering his circumstance would be a different sort of captive altogether: an Anglican washed ashore. Like Robinson Crusoe stranded on the Isle of Despair, the Count would maintain his resolve by committing to the business of practicalities. Having dispensed with dreams of quick discovery, the world’s Crusoes seek shelter and a source of fresh water; they teach themselves to make fire from flint; they study their island’s topography, its climate, its flora and fauna, all the while keeping their eyes trained for sails on the horizon and footprints in the sand.”

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This sounds like a good story. Any story that can show you ways of finding joy in your day to day life is worth the read. I know how crazy life can get nowadays that we tend to forget about the important and small things that we take for granted everyday. I have not read a story based out of Russia. It would be fun to learn a little bit more about their culture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Life She Was Given

This story made me think of the quote by Harper Lee: “You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family.”  Meet heroine number one, Lilly, who survives daunting familial abuse only to face even more when she is sold to a circus sideshow traveling through the town in which she lives.

Lilly is a beautiful child, but because it’s the 1930s and she’s a child with albinism, she’s turned into a freakish oddity. Her family locks her away in their attic until she is sold by her mother to the circus at age 10. Having never been allowed to venture outside of her attic domain, she is terrified by her new surroundings and struggles to adjust to them. Ultimately, she develops friendships, finds love, and becomes a featured star performing with her beloved elephants in the Big Tent.

Fast forward several years to when heroine number two, Julia, inherits a horse farm, including the family mansion where Lilly was incarcerated as a youngster. As Julia explores the house, she uncovers hidden areas and secrets to which she is determined to find the answers. She finds her father’s diary. For what horrible deeds did he seek forgiveness? Who is the mysterious Lilly? Her father’s mistress perhaps? Or?

This is not a particularly happy story. However, it shines with the resilience and determination of strong women who refuse to be defeated by adverse circumstances. It also is an insightful look into the bonds created between animals and humans as well as behind-the-scenes life as a circus performer. Does Julia solve the mystery of Lilly? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Go to Great Finds and Giveaways for the chance to be the new owner of my copy of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Life She Was Given.

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I am so excited to read this book. It is the next book I will be reading once I finish When The Jessamine Grows. It’s sitting on my nightstand waiting for me! I have enjoyed books from Ellen Marie Wiseman in the past and I bet this one is just as intriguing. Her writing style really draws me in. Plus, I love reading books about strong women determined to overcome what lies in their path.

  2. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I started this book on Monday and can’t put it down! Lilly’s story really draws me in and I am completely baffled at how her mother could treat her the way she does. I also feel really drawn to her because my oldest is really close in age to her when she is sold to the circus. I couldn’t imagine treating my children the same way. I can’t wait to see what secrets Julia discovers and what the outcome for Lilly is.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sisters of Fortune

Tell boredom to take a hike … with Sisters of Fortune in hand. Released just six days ago, has anyone read it? Is this a book that interests you?

photo of Sister of Fortune

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This book is of interest over here! My oldest and I plan to read it together. He loves everything about the Titanic and will take anything he can get his hands on related to Titanic. We look forward to this one coming out next week!

  2. Jean Pici says:

    SISTERS OF FORTUNE by Anna Lee Huber

    If you loved the movie, “Titanic”, what can I say? Flora and Chess Kinsey can’t even begin to compare to Rose and Jack Dawson. I mean, really, he didn’t even teach her how to spit with gusto!

    Kidding aside, the first half of the book spends a lot of time describing the magnificent accoutrements of the Titanic as well as the fashions of frivolous debutants in 1912. And there are many characters to meet. But the author did her homework. Most of these characters were actual passengers on the doomed Ship of Dreams. And some of their back stories are quite interesting as is much of the detail about the ship which, of course, the movie couldn’t adequately cover.

    Other than the tragic disaster itself, the storyline pretty much revolves around one family, The Fortunes, fom Winnipeg, Canada who are returning from a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East. Huber has taken some creative license with the individual sisters. So be sure to read the Author’s Notes at the end to separate fact from fiction.

    If you are an aficionado of all things Titanic, you will enjoy this book. If you aren’t, move on to a different disaster.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Orphan Collector

How about this book? Does it interest you? Maybe you’ve read it already. If so, let us know what you thought about it! Because I’m old enough to remember the impact of polio before there was a vaccine (two of the boys in my neighborhood were stricken), I’m not sure I want to revisit this topic, especially since we’ve just been through a modern-day pandemic. On the other hand, history is a great teacher and often helps broaden my perspective, while allowing me to cancel out all the current noise and notions that have a tendency to be politically motivated.

In the fall of 1918, 13-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . . .

  1. Jean Pici says:

    This book hit very close to home because my maternal grandmother along with two of her small children succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1919 in Buffalo New York. Diligent genealogy searches have never been able to turn up any death records for her or the children. After reading The Orphan Collector, I realize that the deaths were occurring so rapidly that bodies were just taken away and buried in mass graves often with no records being maintained. That’s probably what happened to Grandma Jane.

    This was certainly not a happy story but definitely a riveting one. Thirteen-year-old Pia endures unbelievable hardships including the loss of both parents, surviving the flu herself, being sent to an orphanage, and separation from her only two remaining relatives – four-month-old twin boys. She spends years searching for them not realizing they were taken by a neighbor, Bernice, whose own infant son and husband had both died. Bernice is the ‘orphan collector’. She is unbalanced by her grief and is extremely prejudiced. She embarks on a dark journey impersonating a Red Cross nurse and taking abandoned infants and providing them to couples who have recently lost their own asking for healthy donations to an orphanage which she keeps for herself. In other words, she sells babies. She also puts older ‘undesirable’ immigrant children on trains going to rural areas promising them families will meet them at their destination and give them loving homes on farms. No one meets them and they are abandoned to subsist as best as they can far from home.

    This book was written at the dawn of the Covid 19 pandemic and is not for the faint of heart. There were so many similarities in how the two pandemics, separated by 100 years, were handled by authorities — it was eerie. If you love reading good historical fiction and are curious about the Spanish Flu pandemic, this is an excellent read.

  2. Grace Brown katmom says:

    Jean, great review. I will certainly have to check this one out to read. So similar to my mother’s life during WWII. Her hometown of Heilbronn Germany was bombed by the Allies on Christmas Eve, so many deaths that a mass grave was used for the bodies, and like in The Orphan Collector, there was no record of those buried, and so many orphans left to fend for themselves if not taken in by remaining family or neighbors. 1918, 1930’s or 2019, sadly so much history, “people’s stories” are lost.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

I haven’t read this book yet, but historical fiction is a genre I’m drawn to. How about you?

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined . . .

“Powerful. Grounded in historical fact, it ends like a fast-paced thriller.” – Historical Novel Society

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I have read The Lost Girls of Willowbrook and really enjoyed it. I have a big interest in anything related to psychology, especially insane asylums. This book was very hard to put down and the fastest book I have ever read. So many twists and turns. It also encouraged me to look more into the real Willowbrook facility to see what happened with it. I loved that it was based on a real facility. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.

    The next book I would like to read from Ellen Marie Wiseman is The Orphan Collector. It’s based around the arrival of the Spanish flu, and I feel it would be relatable because of some of our most recent events.

    The Life She Was Given also sounds like an amazing read! It’s going to be hard to choose.

  2. Jean Pici says:

    The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman

    Is author, Ellen Marie Wiseman, a gifted wordsmith? YES. Does she do impeccable research? YES. However, I found this to be a very disturbing book that gave me a couple of nights of restless sleep. Before writing this review, I did some internet research to determine what was real and what was fiction. And, I am old enough to remember Geraldo Rivera’s explosive TV documentary about Willowbrook.

    I know this book has received many kudos. But the facts were distressful and the fiction depressing. Perhaps I found the subject matter too close to home. I am a senior handicapped individual. I have friends who have mentally challenged children. As I labored through this story, I couldn’t help but wonder often if we would just be “throwaways” were it not for loving families.

    If you are curious about mental illness and the history of its treatments and you have a strong stomach, then this book may be for you. Otherwise move on to something a little less stressful to read. Whether you read it or not, however, I would urge you to Google “Geraldo Rivera Willowbrook”. You will be able to view the original documentary as well as an updated interview with Rivera 50 years later. But be prepared to view man’s inhumanity to man up close and personal. While it has taken many years, this single documentary changed the way the unfortunates with mental disabilities are treated. Thank you, Mr. Rivera.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

When the Jessamine Grows

Donna Everhart’s long-awaited novel When the Jessamine Grows has finally launched.

When the Jessamine Grows is set during the Civil War, but it is not a war story. Rather, it is a story about those whose fight for survival took place far from the battlefront, told from the rarely-heard perspective of a courageous Southern woman. It is a story about the impossibility of neutrality in times of war. And finally, set amidst the rugged beauty of rural 19th century North Carolina, When the Jessamine Grows is a story about a farm family and survival and standing by one’s values.

When The Jessamine Grows book cover

“Donna Everhart takes a complicated issue—neutrality during the Civil War—and gives an empathetic portrait of a family that tries to maintain it … compelling, harrowing at times, When the Jessamine Grows will keep you on the edge of your seat.” – Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction (Greenville, NC)

“Historical fiction at its absolute best! Showing strength, courage and resolve in the face of the many cruelties of the Civil War, Joetta McBride is no demure southern belle. She deals with grief, starvation, and ruin. Everhart has created a new hero in the unflinching, steadfast, and ever courageous Joetta McBride.” – Sharon Davis, Book Bound Bookstore (Blairsville, GA)

“The divide of the North and South was like a great crack in the earth, a gaping maw of distrust, and the self-righteousness and determination that grew with each passing conflict only served to expand the differences. And here she dwelled, in this land divided, impartial, and nonaligned, hoping to remain thus until it was over.” – from When the Jessamine Grows

  1. maryjane says:

    Early this morning I finished “When the Jessamine Grows.” In a recent NYTimes guest column titled, How to Save a Sad, Lonely, Angry, and Mean Society, David Brooks said,
    “… immersing yourself in novels with complex characters … stories that explore the complexity of this character’s motivations or that character’s wounds, is a training ground for understanding human variety … the resulting knowledge is not factual knowledge but emotional knowledge.” Donna Everhart’s brilliantly crafted book does just that. Her book is important because she takes us back to another time when our nation was divided and there was rancor afoot.

    • Vida says:

      I loved this essay from David Brooks and I love the way you’ve connected his insights to the experience of reading a story that immerses us in a time that feels so wildly remote from our modern lives…and yet so analogous in many ways to our present culture, when ideological divides spur conflicts everywhere from our Capitol to our dinner tables.

  2. Abigail says:

    When war erupts, it impacts so many lives – not just those directly involved in the conflict. I’m intrigued by the description of a family trying to stay neutral and stand by their values in the midst of a civil war; I want to know more. Is it possible to stay neutral in the face of a conflict that threatens to split our country? Is it possible to stay neutral when the outcome of this war will decide the fate of slavery in our country?

  3. Jean Pici says:

    You ask “Why does this book appeal to you?” Aside from the engrossing story based on a very painful time in American history, it seems I am led into moments of introspection — Would I have the inner strength to maintain my convictions and values and to pesevere under such devastating conditions? And in these privileged but tumultuous times of the 21st century, I wonder, who will write our history and will that history be kind to us?

  4. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This book really gets you thinking and realizing how much impact the war really had on everyone. There are times when my heart really breaks for the main character, but I am proud she is staying true to herself. Even though I have not finished this book, Donna has shown how much strength and work women have had to provide to keep their families and home intact. Living through that time would not have been for the faint of heart.

  5. Megan Rae says:

    Just started it and already love the character of Joetta! I can’t wait to immerse myself in their story.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Not-So Fairy Tales

Most children love a good fairy story, and even us adults have been known to belt along to the songs from the Disney versions. Let It Go, am I right? But most of us only know the watered-down version of the original tales: the beginnings of these stories were much darker … and quite frankly, more than a little strange, they are downright dark.

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam (1859 – 1920) via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, children’s books didn’t actually exist back when fairy tales started being written down, so they were clearly aimed at an adult audience when Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy, and even Hans Christian Andersen took up their pens. Want to hear some of the stories behind the stories? If you’re sure …

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Supposedly based on Margarete von Waldeck, a 16th century Bavarian noblewoman, whose tale inspired this well-known story. Living alongside her brother (other reports say her father) at his copper mine, the labor was provided by children, who became deformed at the result of the all the work in the mine. They were referred to as dwarves, and the brother was known to poison with apples anyone caught stealing. Margarete was also poisoned to death, after being sent away by her stepmother to live in Brussels. She became embroiled with Prince Philip II of Spain, to the chagrin and rage of his father, the King. Let’s just say she did not live happily ever after. When the Grimm brothers wrote their tale of Snow White, they likely pulled from this story, adding in their own bits that Disney and other children’s books later left out: the evil stepmother demanding and then eating what she believed were Snow White’s lungs and liver (eww!), and how Snow White was saved, not by a kiss, but by the prince tripping and dropping her casket, which dislodged the piece of apple in her throat (which, if you think about it, is a better lesson to teach the youngsters: if someone is choking or poisoned maybe kissing them isn’t the answer. Try the Heimlich maneuver, boys and girls).
  • The Little Mermaid. In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, we find a much sadder and tragic ending for little Ariel. When she gets her new legs from the sea witch, the punishment is that walking around on them will be horribly painful, like knife wounds to her feet. She even leaves behind trails of blood when she walks. Naturally, she makes the deal anyway, determined to win the love of the prince. Sadly, while he finds her nice enough, he falls in love with someone else. The sea witch tells the mermaid if she stabs him to death, she’ll turn back into a mermaid and can forget all about this unfortunate teenage mistake. Unable to do so, she throws herself into the sea and becomes foam. Probably not the feel-good story of the year, Hans.
  • The Sleeping Beauty. Giambattista Basile’s tale is so weird and dark, it’s hard to know why Charles Perrault adapted it later, and why Disney liked it, too. In the original, a king wanders by a castle and enters it, only to find the sleeping beauty, who is in some sort of coma. He doesn’t wake her, and he doesn’t just kiss her either. That’s right, in this twisted tale, Sleeping Beauty wakes up nine months later to twins. The messed-up romance doesn’t stop there: the king is already married, and when the queen finds out about what’s happening, she tries to burn Sleeping Beauty at the stake and plans to feed the babies to the king. She is unsuccessful, which is about the only decent thing in this tale! We’ll stick to Walt’s version, thanks.
  • The Lion King. Shakespeare lovers figured it out pretty quickly, but the rest of us took some time to put two and two together: the Lion King is based on Hamlet. At least in the singing animal version, a few survive to tell the tale, not like the Bard’s original, where basically, the entire cast of characters dies.
  • Rapunzel. There are a few versions of this strange tale of the well-tressed girl in a tower, but one is based on the tale of a 3rd century A.D. woman. Sheltered by her father, who absolutely refused to allow her any suitors, she was locked up in a tower whenever he had to travel for business. Praying loudly throughout the window, annoyed Father Dear eventually decapitated her (later, he was struck and killed by lightning). She became the martyr, Saint Barbara, revered by the Eastern Orthodox Church. When the story morphed into a fairy tale, it got even stranger by adding in the long hair and some darker elements: having twins out of wedlock, the witch blinding the prince by plucking out his eyes, and Rapunzel wandering for years with her babies until the lovers meet again. Which, as we’re learning, is a surprisingly happy ending for these types of tales!
  • Hansel and Gretel. Most likely based off the story of Katharina Schraderin, a 16th-century baker. She made such a delicious gingerbread cookie house that her rival, a man who was a baker himself, accused her of witchcraft. The townspeople, loving a good mob and BYOP (bring your own pitchfork) party, burned her to death in her own oven. Feeling warm and fuzzy yet? Me neither.
  • Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi’s version of the tale of the walking, talking marionette, ends with Pinocchio accidently killing the wise cricket and himself being strung up and hung. Gulp.

Knowing all this makes me even more grateful for modern-day children’s books that are what they are, with most of them being downright wonderful, clever, and full of goodness and light. Have you read any good children’s books lately? You might want to try Something to Tell the Grandcows by Eileen Spinelli and Bill Slavin. Or, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar. In the adult genre, Bill Gates said, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker is “my new favorite book of all time.”  Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise.

And there you have it! No need to throw yourself into the sea. We really have come a long way.

Continue reading

  1. Lisa Von Saunder says:

    I had heard that the original fairy tales were grim ( parden the pun) but not this awful.

    I have my old 1933 copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that has very frightening paintings, which I feared and loved at the same time when I was a child. The dragon is amazingly lovely and scary at the same time.

  2. Debbie Klann says:

    YIKES!!!! I think I might stick to reading “The Elk Princess ” to little Merit instead of the Disney princess stories. The book by Steven Pinker sounds interesting…especially after all of the recent news. I will have to track it down.

  3. Barbara Criss says:

    I did not know this about fairy tales. I still have a book from my childhood called Slovenly Peter and it was full of horrible things that happened to children that were bad. I realize now that I am older how terrible it really was. The book was old and I do not know how or why we had it. I still like to look at it now and then.

  4. Susan says:

    I just read these two books:
    Five Bad Deeds by Caz Frear. The book was sort of ok till about half way through, then I had to keep reading to finish it!
    From Blood and Ash by Jennifer Armentrout. I loved this book, and have ordered the next book in the series.
    Hope you’ll donate books to soldiers.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *