Friday, April 29, 2016

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

 From the back cover of Go Set a Watchman, "Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience."  Ms. Lee takes the basis for this quote from the Bible, the book of Isaiah. Harper Lee also wrote To Kill a Mockingbird which was published in 1960 and won her the Pulitzer Prize.  
Written in the mid-1950's, it is a testament to the struggle of our country to move into a new era.  Go Set a Watchman did not see print until 2015.  I want to tell you about the book, then I will tell you about the controversy and then you can make up your mind;  which you can always do anyway.  I feel having both angles will give you more to think about before you decide to read it.  I would not have paid much attention, let alone read the book, if I had not seen news stories about the controversy and then noticed a copy of it laying on an end table in the home of a friend.  She offered to have me borrow it and I accepted.  I thought it would make a great post for my book review blog.  So here it is.
Go Set A Watchman takes place in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1950's when the battle for equality facing black Americans was gaining momentum.  Jean Louise "Scout" Finch was born and raised in Maycomb and is returning home from New York City, at the ripe old age of 26.  Her father, Atticus, is getting older and she has come for a visit.  Her childhood friend, Hank, is nowadays practicing law with Scout's father as his mentor.  Not much else is the same as she remembers it.  The Finches long time black cook, Calpurnia, who helped raise Scout and her brother Jem after her mother passed away, has retired.  Atticus has arthritis and his sister Alexandra lives with him and has taken over the duties that Calpurnia used to perform. Now, there are other family relations and skeletons which do not need to be drug out here. It looks, from the outside, that Maycomb is still the same but, as she will find out, things are changing.  The book moves along in a fairly easy to read way until about halfway through.  That is when Jean Louise happens upon a paper lying amongst the Sunday papers on an end table in the living room entitled "The Black Plague."  She reads it and is utterly devastated, incensed, shocked and heartbroken.  She immediately runs to the county courthouse where she slips into the "blacks only" balcony to observe her father at the Citizens Council meeting at a table with other citizens whom she thought cared for the black community.  The next day, she has a grotesquely elaborated, emotional confrontation with her father, in which she comes to the realization that she has been "color blind' all her life.  After "listening" to her harangue Atticus for 25 pages, which I could hardly read through for the livid emotional diatribe that it was, I was over this book.  How can you be that old, living in the 50's, raised in the South, and not know that there are conflicting attitudes about black people and their "place"?  I suppose there were people like that who were sheltered, or sheltered themselves from that reality.  I finished the book just to see if she would come to terms with life as we know it before the last page, and she did.  There are mental exercises and concessions and awareness of reality that take place in her head which bring her to a state of realistic acceptance.  It was exhausting.
Various news reports from a bevy of sources say that this book was a grab for money on the part of Ms. Harper's lawyer Tonja Carter.  The book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and it is said that it is actually a rough draft of that book.  It disappeared and she thought it was lost when Tonja found it attached to back of an old manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird.  She was thrilled that it was found and would be published. Her last days were spent in a nursing home where she passed away February of this year, just after the book was published, at the age of 89. It is said by HarperCollins that it serves as an "essential companion to To Kill a Mockingbird, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic."  You could say that, but if you have read To Kill a Mockingbird, you know that it is about the plight of blacks in the South and a good lawyer defending a good black man, despite the color of his skin.  You don't need Go Set a Watchman to add that to your understanding.
You can read more about the  controversy at The Guardian/Harper Lee new novel
I give Go Set a Watchman two and a half stars.

Thanks so much for being here!!

Picture of Harper Lee when the book was released and when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird
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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 30-Day Faith Detox

Renew Your Mind, Cleanse Your Body, Heal Your Spirit

Laura Harris Smith, Certified Nutritional Counselor, has written a thoroughly cleansing read, no pun intended. This book combines a safe, not radical dietary detox combined with spiritual insight.   The author lays out a 30 day plan which includes specific scriptures and prayers for each day as well as a meal plan.

Ms. Smith speaks from her own experience in writing this book.  She was raised eating homegrown vegetables and fruits.  She did not grow up on processed foods.  Her father always told her to "eat the rainbow" of vegetables and fruits.  She tells her story of having children and in her busy life, she more and more chose processed foods.  The foods that are in "boxes, bags or cans that sit in the middle of your grocery store."  "Dead food" as opposed living foods which line the walls of the store.  She advises that if we would eat more of these foods, mainly produce, meats and dairy, we would be  healthier.
She found herself in the habit of not getting enough sleep, eating poorly, not exercising and not being well.  She accumulated a sleep deficit that landed her on the brink of adrenal failure.  She was dabbling at good health, not making it a priority.  This describes many of us;  we keep going with lack of sleep, fast food, less exercise than we should and being basically not well as our "new normal."
The author has outlined a way for us to change all of that with a change to the way we look at food and our health in general.  In this book she outlines a 30-day plan to detox safely and sanely which will put us on the right path to physical and spiritual health.  Have you ever thought you really need to get some exercise, make wiser choices for dinner, and read your Bible more?  This plan will start new habits for you that will last a lifetime.
The plan is radical, I don't deny that.  But it is so worth the 30-day focus on your mental, spiritual and physical health that I urge you to give this an honest effort.  I feel certain you will not be sorry.
The book is divided into sections titles like Health-Related Toxins, Relationship Toxins, Financial Toxins.  Each day is detailed with spiritual toxins, corresponding emotional toxins and a correlating physical detox.  Specific internal organs are cleansed with each day's food.  She lists what to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner with a mid-morning juice or smoothie and an afternoon snack, ending the day with a nightcap (a healthy one!)  Laura also advises that if you have activities and obligations coming up such as weddings, reunions, etc. that you wait for a month when you don't have a lot of obligations.  She does however tell you how you can keep those commitments while on the plan, if need be.  Simply put, this is a great book.  The caveat is this;  be ready to change your life if you read this book.
I give The 30-Day Faith Detox five stars!  If you would like to know more, check it out at

30-Day Faith Detox  or TAKE THE 30-DAY DETOX

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Chosen Books for the purposes of an honest review.  These words are my opinion.
Thanks so much for reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lilac Girls

This debut novel by Martha Hall Kelly is an exquisitely heartrending read.  I know no other way than this oxymoron to describe it.  She expertly weaves a novelization of the true story of a group of  Polish young women who were held in Ravensbruck during WWII.  The story centers around Kasia Kuzmerick, who was held there, Herta Oberheuser, who became one of the doctors performing experimental surgeries and Caroline Ferriday, the woman responsible for bringing over 70 of the women of Ravensbruck to the United States for corrective surgeries, dental work, etc.
The story begins in 1939 on the eve of the war, with Caroline who holds a post at the French Consulate in the Rockefeller building on Fifth Avenue, New York City.  This volunteer position is a labor of love for Caroline.  She is head of family assistance for the French Consulate and as such, is charged with unraveling visa issues and other crimps in the refugee status of wealthy citizens that have fled the political uneasiness in France.  She also has a special place in her heart for the French children who were orphaned during the war.

Hitler has just declared war on Poland.  Kasia is the daughter of the postmaster in Lublin. We watch the progress of German troops across Poland and see Kasia, her mother Halina and her sister Zuzanna herded onto trains for the trip to Ravensbruck.

It is there that we see Herta turn from an idealistic young doctor to an emotionally frozen demon of a surgeon. Herta was raised in a normal middle class German home. That being one that mostly did not associate with Jews.  Although she has no disdain for them really, she has been raised on the Hitler anti-Jew propaganda, reading in her schoolbooks about the selfish traits of Jews and how they will take everything from Germany.  She is not a bad young woman at this point.  She has studied for the medical profession and earned her white coat.  She is almost a doctor. Herta does come with her own set of personal demons as a result of working in the butcher shop of her Onkle Heinz.  She is naive about the war.  She believes the reeducation camps are nice places where Polish (Jewish) citizens are treated fairly.  Upon seeing an ad for a doctor at Ravensbruck, she applies for the job knowing that it would bring a better salary for her and her mother and father to live on.  Her father has cancer and has become unable to work.  Her mother has to stay home to take care of him.  She is hired and packs her suitcase to move to Ravensbruck, coming home only rarely on holidays.

Ms. Kelly writes with such a natural conversational tone that you feel you are reading the diaries of these young women.  This is the life that the Poles, Jewish and otherwise, were conscripted to with the advance of Hitler and his anti-Semitic rhetoric and domination of Poland.

Ravensbruck was Hitler's only all female concentration camp.  It was there that experimental surgeries were performed on hundreds of women such as these that the author writes about in Lilac Girls.  Some of the women from Ravensbruck survived the horror of it to be released at the end of the war.  Their lives after the war were made so much better by Caroline Ferriday.  The title for the book comes from the Lilac gardens of Caroline at her home in Connecticut.  There is a story about that also, which I will let you read.

If you have read Holocaust novels before this, or seen documentaries, you may think you have seen and read enough of that horrible chapter in man's history.  I would suggest that you read this book.  It tells a story that you may not have heard or read about.  We know of Auschwitz, Dachau or Treblinka, one of the killing centers.  But the women of Ravensbruck have a story worth hearing and Martha Hall Kelly has written it well.  The author spent ten years in research and five years writing this book.  It is definitely a labor of love!
I give Lilac Girls five stars!
I received a complimentary e-book copy of this novel from Random House Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.  These words are my opinion.

If you would like to know more about Ravensbruck please check out this link Jewish Virtual Library/Ravensbruck
To read more about Martha Hall Kelly and her research and writing visit Martha Hall Kelly, The Journey