Book Review Round Up Part 4: Foreword Reviews

It’s time for another round up of the books I have recently reviewed for Foreword Reviews. This round up contains books about fairy tales in a small town in the Midwest, travels around the Black Sea, and an mixed-race family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

These are all books that I enjoyed reading. Hopefully you will find them enjoyable as well.

The text within quotation marks are excerpts from the reviews. The reviews can be read in full on Foreword Reviews’ website and in the May/June 2022 issue of the Foreword Reviews magazine.

Scott Russell Sanders, Small Marvels (Indiana University Press, 2022).

“Midwestern magic abounds in Scott Russell Sanders’s fairy tale short story collection Small Marvels. In Limestone, Indiana, Gordon Mills is a jack of all trades whose big family lives in a dilapidated house that only remains standing because it doesn’t know which way to fall. His wife, Mabel, keeps the family together. With their respective parents, Gordon and Mabel work to make ends meet. Even though money is short, there is always food on the table and plenty of love to go around. But while, on the surface, the family’s hometown seems to be an ordinary place, and the Mills to be an ordinary family, these linked stories reveal that there is more to both than meets the eye.”

I enjoyed this short story collection because I enjoy stories about the fantastical among the ordinary. There is story telling to explore where these two worlds crash up against each other, and it shows that what we take for granted might just be magic.

Jens Mühling, Simon Pare (transl.), Troubled Water. A Journey around the Black Sea (Haus Publishing, 2022).

“Jens Mühling’s colorful travelogue Troubled Water captures the history and cultures on the shores of the Black Sea. The Black Sea has been a crossroads for warring and colonizing societies since human civilization began to take form in the Fertile Crescent. Along its contested shores, empires have risen and fallen, and people are constantly on the move, either voluntarily or by force. Against a backdrop of demographic, political, and environmental change, the civilizations of the Black Sea are examined by looking at every situation from more than one angle. Simon Pare’s vibrant translation from the original German brings out the literary qualities of the prose.”

As I wrote in last week’s post about the interview I did with Jens Mühling, before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Black Sea as a region was generally overlooked in popular history and contemporary politics. But as recent developments in the region have shown, and which Mühling brings forth in his book, the Black Sea has played a crucial role in human civilization for millennia. And not only is this a great book, look at that book cover! I love it.

Jennifer Dance, Gone But Still Here (Dundurn Press, 2022).

“Jennifer Dance’s based-in-truth novel Gone but Still Here follows a tragedy-scarred multiracial family as one of its members is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Mary feels herself slipping. Despite her career as a published author, her words don’t come to her the way that they used to, she has forgotten how to use a can opener, and time passes without her noticing. To preserve her memories before they completely disappear, she begins to write a book about her husband, Keith, who died when their children were very young. Told from Mary, Kayla, and Sage’s points of view, as well as using multiple storytelling elements, from text messages to prose, the novel does a beautiful job of portraying the joys and sorrows that follow from a life-altering diagnosis. Gone but Still Here is an emotional novel about a family faced with the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.”

I enjoyed this book because of the love and warmth that exuded from its pages. Books rarely make me cry, but this one did.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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Book Review Round Up Part 2: Foreword Reviews

As some of you might know, I review books for Foreword Reviews, a magazine and review service that reviews books published by independent presses, university presses, and self-published authors for independent bookstores, libraries, and literary agents, as well as the general reading public. This week I would like to share with you some of the books that I have reviewed for them over the past year and a half. In addition to being featured on Foreword Review’s website, these reviews have also been published in the print edition of the magazine Foreword Reviews.

Last time I did a Foreword Review book review round up was in October 2020 and you can read that round up by clicking on this link.

Hopefully you will find a book that interests you. Enjoy!

The text within quotation marks are excerpts from the reviews.

Norris Hundley, Jr. and Donald C. Jackson. Heavy Ground. William Mulholland and the St Francis Dam Disaster (University of Nevada Press, 2020).

“On March 12th, 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, and twelve billion gallons of silted water crashed through the California countryside. By the time the flood reached the coast and spilled into the Pacific, an estimated 400 people had lost their lives, making this one of the greatest disasters of its kind in US history.”

I really enjoyed this book and its discussions on how the city of Los Angeles wouldn’t exist the way we know it, if it hadn’t been for the massive infrastructure projects that were undertaken to secure the city’s water supply. Also, I will never think of Mulholland Drive the same again.

Amy Nathan. Together. An Inspiring Response to the “Separate-but-Equal” Supreme Court Decision that Split America (Paul Dry Books, 2021).

“On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a Black shoemaker from New Orleans, bought a first class train ticket to Covington, Louisiana. When the train arrived, Plessy took his seat. Less than three blocks away from the station, the trip came to an end, and Plessy found himself arrested for being a Black man traveling in a train car for white people. Plessy found himself in court, and Judge John Ferguson found him guilty of breaking the law. What seemed like a minor occurrence was, in fact, part of a bigger plan to challenge The Separate Car Act of 1890, which introduced segregated train seating in Louisiana.”

This book is a great introduction to the actions that led to the Supreme Court ruling known as Plessy v. Ferguson, which came to be used as the legal precendent for introducing Jim Crow laws in the South. The story focuses on how the descendants of Homer Plessy and Judge John H. Ferguson work together to bridge the racial divide caused by this case.

Jen Gunter. The Menopause Manifesto (Kensington Books, 2021).

“Jen Gunter’s The Menopause Manifesto is a self-help guide through menopause for all women of a certain age. The Menopause Manifesto is practical as it reclaims menopause from myths, educating and empowering its audience in equal measure.”

In addition to reviewing The Menopause Manifesto, I interviewed its author, Dr. Jen Gunter. You can read my interview with Dr. Gunter here. An excerpt from this interview was also included in Foreword Review’s round up of the best conversations between reviewers and authors in 2021.

Mario Levrero, Annie McDermott (transl.). The Luminous Novel (And Other Stories, 2021).

“An author’s dream of financial independence comes true when he receives a generous stipend with no strings attached. Suddenly he has the means to dedicate all of his time to the novel that has eluded him for so many years. But the dream turns into a nightmare. Even with no time restrictions, he finds himself without the time to write. The novel slips further away from him, and with it, his life.”

This book was an unusual reading experience. The only way I can describe it is “meta.” This is a book written about the inability to write. But if you are unable to write, then how did you write this book?

Ellen Prentiss Campbell. Frieda’s Song (Apprentice House Press, 2021).

“In 1935, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, a Jewish psychoanalyst, leaves Nazi Germany for the United States, where she builds a new life in Rockville, Maryland. In 2009, Eliza, also a psychoanalyst and the single mother of a troubled teenage son, moves into the house Frieda built. By accident, she discovers Frieda’s diary. Thereafter unfolds a story of how, for one summer, the women’s lives mirrored each other, despite a difference of decades.”

I enjoyed this book because it taught me about the real-life person of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, a pioneer in psychoanalysis and the treatment of schizophrenia.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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Historical Science in Science Fiction

Say the phrase “science fiction”. What do you see? I would bet an image of the Universe has appeared in your mind. The science of science fiction is most often associated with the natural sciences – physics, chemistry, medicine, biology. The fiction of science fiction seeks to answer the seemingly eternal question of what it means to be a human being. However, the natural sciences do not primarily exist to answer the question posed by science fiction. The science that exists to answer the question of what it means to be a human being is historical science.

Historical science is an academic discipline dedicated to the study of human activity. The aim of historical science is to answer the question of why human society is organized the way it is and what role human beings, as groups or as individuals, have played in the historical process. Historical science does this by applying theories and historical methodology to written documents produced by human beings who lived in the past. The theories applied by historians are taken from a vast array of sciences. The most interesting application of a theory to an historical process, that I have come across, is the application of the theory of relativity to the creation of a feminist movement in post-communist Eastern Europe.

Historical science thrives on investigating and interpreting civilizations that are alien to us. Although these civilizations once existed on Earth, because they existed in the past their culture, laws, language, morals and ethics can be far removed from ours. My field of expertise is urban history in Europe and North America. To be able to understand how and why cities appeared in Europe more than 2,000 years ago, I have to step outside of myself in the 21st century and wrap my head around the civilization that existed at that time. As I have stated previously on this blog, this mind exercise is equivalent to time travel. Once the temporal destination has been reached, I then have to learn how to interpret a civilization different from my own. Truly, it is as if I am stepping out of a TARDIS.

Historical science offers a way to answer the question of what it means to be a human being. For example:

Historical science asks the question why past societies differ from ours.

Historical science asks why our way of interpreting our surroundings is different from the interpretations prevalent many centuries ago.

Historical science asks the question what it is to be woman or a man. The views have differed through the centuries and are not necessarily the way we choose to categorize gender today.

Historical science asks the question what is a criminal act. The value of human life has differed throughout the ages and the compensation for loss of life is not necessarily what we today would consider sufficient.

Historical science asks the question what is knowledge. It investigates on what basis we know what we claim to know. It points out that change in knowledge is not necessarily equivalent to progress.

In my work as an historian, I am an inter-disciplinarian. If an academic discipline different from my own can help me in my historical argument, I do not hesitate to utilize the results of that discipline. This is especially helpful when researching cities the way I do. Cities as objects of study are by nature interdisciplinary. By integrating the results of several different disciplines, such as archaeology, geography, oceanography, physics, and economics, I have come to appreciate the value that the interdisciplinary method adds to an argument.

Classic science fiction takes place in space. And so it should continue to do. However, in my opinion, by adding historical science to the sciences of science fiction, there is much to be gained.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

This post can also be read at Suvudu Universe (8/1/13):
http://universe.suvudu.com/post/historical-science-in-science-fiction

Stephen King and the Feeling of Safety

Stephen King is the author that has meant the most to me. There are entire shelves in my bookcase displaying solid black spines bearing the same name: Stephen King. King was the first writer whose authorship I discovered and devoured. King was the first writer that made me think that I could do this too. That statement is by no means meant as a slight to the talents of King. On the contrary. Through his writing King demonstrated that it is possible to put your ideas to paper and make them work.

Stephen King has a new novel coming out at the same time as he is releasing a collaboration with John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett. And he is featured in the latest issue of TinHouse.

When I opened TinHouse and began reading, I realized, before I had even finished the first paragraph, that it felt like a homecoming. I felt safe to once again be surrounded by the words of Stephen King. King has a warmth to his language that is rarely mentioned. Reading a novel or a short story by Stephen King is like stepping into a dark womb that you know will scare you, exhilarate you, but still, among all the horror and twisted realities, it embraces you and makes you feel safe. Safe to be frightened by the worlds created by King and safe to attempt what he does so brilliantly.

In the words of my friend, the Australian: I shall return.