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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Five Reasons Why You Should Go To Mississippi

Richard Pryor once said in a stand-up performance that no one goes to Mississippi on vacation. “Who in their right mind would say, Let’s go to Biloxi!” Well, Mr. Pryor, I haven’t been to Biloxi, but I do go to Mississippi on vacation. So I guess I’m out of my mind.

I first went to Mississippi in 2005. What brought me there was the blues. I discovered the blues in my teen-age years through Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin and I always wanted to know where that music came from.

Since my first visit in 2005, I have been back to Mississippi four times. Mississippi is a fascinating place in so many ways.

Here are five reasons why Mississippi is such a special place and why you should go there.

1 The American Spirit
During the first half of the 20th century, the State of Mississippi was one of the richest in the union. By the end of that same century, it was one of the poorest. King Cotton had passed away and his kingdom had crumbled.

When I first visited Clarksdale, MS, in 2005, the town was like a ghost town. There was little activity going on and if you wanted to have a meal after five o’clock in the afternoon you had to go somewhere else. There were a number of people working to get the town to come alive again – The Delta Blues Museum, Cat Head, Ground Zero – but overall it was slow.

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Cotton, Tunica, MS
Photo: EH Kern

On my visit last year, signs of revival could be seen all over Clarksdale. The early pioneers had been joined by others. Musicians, artists, writers, restaurants and cafés. Locals shaping their own destiny and people moving in from out of state. And tourists.

Clarksdale is not alone in this. Just north of Clarksdale is Tunica. Tunica was at one time the richest county in the United States, only to plummet to being the poorest. Today, Tunica is on the rise, too. Casinos have brought in money and Tunica is the third largest area for gambling after Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Median wages have risen and Hwy 61 is now a four-lane highway. And there are tourists.

The examples of Clarksdale and Tunica are examples of the American Spirit. No matter what hits you, you keep on fighting. It’s not a matter of how you fall. It’s how you get up.

2 The American History
Mississippi is what you could call a nexus. Here many of the threads and developments that shape the way America looks at itself and relates to itself come together. Mississippi was the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the Civil War. Mississippi had some of the harshest Jim Crow-laws. Mississippi had some of the most violent Civil Rights-clashes.

If you want to know what makes the United States the United States, you will find the answer in Mississippi.

3 The American Storyteller
No one tells a story like a person from Mississippi. And they do it so well that you don’t mind having your whole day interrupted just so you can listen.

In Mississippi you will hear stories that involve William Faulkner, whiskey bottles and shotguns.

A blues musician and Vietnam veteran named Switch Blade will tell you the meaning of life.

A woman will preach love and compassion through Christ when you come looking for Pinetop Perkins.

And if you hang around long enough, you will be part of the story. That’s how I ended up participating in the recording of a blues album at a juke joint.

4 The American Music
To me one of the most important contributions of the United States to the world is music. It was music that originated in Mississippi that helped tear down the Iron Curtain.

There are a number of music genres that are indigenous to the United States. Of these genres the blues, country and rock and roll come from Mississippi. All of them stem from the musical expression of the African-American population.

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Po Monkey’s . In front of the building is a Blues Marker. Markers of this kind are placed by the State of Mississippi at locations important to the history and development of the blues.
Photo: EH Kern

Can you imagine a world without blues, country and rock and roll? I can’t.

If you go to Mississippi you will find their origins and you will find how people play them today. Sometimes by blowing three trumpets at one time. Sometimes by playing the harmonica through your nostril. Sometimes by just grabbing your snare drum and sit in with whatever band happens to be playing.

Furthermore, the State of Mississippi is the birth place of Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, William Faulkner, BB King, Robert Johnson, Tennessee Williams, Jim Henson (and consequently Kermit the Frog), and many many more.

5 Moving Forward
Mississippi is a fascinating place. It has a controversial history and many things are waiting to be corrected. There is still segregation in Mississippi. Not racial segregation, but economic segregation that often run along the same lines. There is poverty and limited opportunities for young people, most often African-American. However, since I went to Mississippi for the first time in 2005 much has changed. And for the better.

Just the fact that the state slogan now reads The Birthplace of America’s Music says a lot.

If you want ideas as to where to go when you visit Mississippi, Book Riot can tell you what to do in Oxford, MS.

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

Sources:
Mississippi Quick Facts