“That’s Not English!”

“That’s Not English” by Erin Moore, “Britishisms, Americanisms, and What our English Says About Us.”

This book caught my eye at the library, and I had to check it out. I’m not nearly as afraid of nonfiction as I used to be, thanks to Mary Roach, author of several nonfiction books that are not only educational, but highly entertaining as well.

Author Erin Moore takes on the English language and finds all the differences between the English they use in England and the one we speak here in the States. And there are lots of differences. Who knew that going potty in London doesn’t involve the bathroom? Over there it’s the same as going crazy.

Some of the Britishisms are downright funny — if you’ve popped your sprogs, you’ve had children. If a child throws a tantrum, he’s throwing wobblies. Your children are more likely to wear uniforms in public school — what they call a state school — and when they have lunch, it might be a sandwich — pronounced “samwidge.”

The author goes into great detail about some topics, spending an entire chapter on such topics as the weather, tea, and the difference between “will” and “shall.” That last one escapes me, but I wasn’t surprised at all about the tea. If we drink tea in America, it’s most likely iced. Tea across the pond is served considerably stronger, and usually with milk.

Another light bulb went on when I read that a wally is considered an ineffectual person. We have a DVD of an animated movie created by a British cartoonist. The clueless character is a genius with gadgets, and has a no-nonsense dog. Their names: Wallace and Gromit. And now I understand the additional joke in their names.

I enjoyed the completeness that Moore employs when telling us about “cheers.” She tells how to use it and how to pronounce it. Most Americans give the R too much emphasis, so “cheers” in Great Britain sounds more like “chis.” I can’t wait to use it on my nephew; he just graduated from Oxford University.

“Color Me Butterfly”

Memoirs can be interesting recollections or just self-indulgent, but “Color Me Butterfly” falls somewhere between the two.  L. Y. Marlow tells about four generations in her family and their struggle with domestic violence.

At first, the story centers around Eloise, who grew up in the South and moved north with her abusive husband and children. And the family was huge, since birth control wasn’t widely available. The author makes a point of connecting her family’s history with the nation’s history. That helps put the four generations into context.

Farther into the story, it’s clear that the book is merely a vehicle for the author’s poetry. She incorporates the poetry into the story nicely, but a more sophisticated reader might find them jarring or annoying.

Each woman in the story has to learn her lessons firsthand, and they all make mistakes that they have to live with. And each woman has to learn that she can’t trust the man she fell in love with. Every time one of the women gets beat up, her lover apologizes, promises never to do it again, and is taken back. Dumb.

But that’s the dilemma of the abused woman: she never believes she has choices. The eldest generation didn’t have the same kind of support that the youngest generation has. Eloise must depend on her family and live with her bad choices, while Treasure (the youngest generation) has a therapist as well as family to fall back on.

It seems like all the men in their lives were scoundrels, criminals or just plain mean. What sets them apart is that the oldest generation just walks away from his family, while the younger generations actually spend time in prison to pay for their crimes.

In the end, the reader is hopeful that the women’s lives will be better — having more access to support, more choices open to them, and more self-respect in order to reject ill treatment from the men their lives.

“Destiny of the Republic”

After reading “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard, I think I want a refund on my history classes. There is so much more to learn about James Garfield, our 20th president, than I would ever have guessed.

He was one of our assassinated presidents, shot by a madman, and then killed by the doctors. No, doctor. One doctor in particular –whose story should be taught to medical students –was the culprit. Dr. Bliss came in and imperiously made himself the head honcho in Garfield’s care. But I digress.

James Garfield was probably the only person in history who attended a national political convention who DIDN’T want to be president. He was tapped to give a nominating speech for another man, likely because he was such a good speaker. After giving his speech, the delegates at the convention decided to nominate Garfield. They’d had over a hundred votes, with no clear direction, but the only man they could all agree on was Garfield.

The future president started life in Ohio; his father died when he was only two years old. His mother was clearly a resourceful person; she kept the family together and insisted that her children become educated, because that was the only way out of poverty. When other families would have parcelled out the children to other families or put them to work, she made sure they went to school.  Garfield’s siblings went on to other great things, too.

Garfield, a college president at age 26 and Civil War hero, would have been a good president. He might have pushed for earlier desegregation, more educational opportunities for children, and a better system of welfare. It’s tragic that he didn’t have that opportunity. Author Candice Millard gives us a well-researched and well-written story of this man. And she gives us an equally balanced account of Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau.

Guiteau was mentally ill. He’d survived a steamboat accident and was convinced that he’d been chosen by God to perform some big service to mankind. Unfortunately, he decided that his service would be to take out Garfield, so that Chester Arthur could become president. Arthur was favored by some in the party because they thought he was easily manipulated. Even then, power could corrupt. But no one thought that Garfield’s life was in danger.

Garfield was so beloved by the people that it took over 100 interviews with potential jurors to find a group of 12 who said they could give a fair and balanced judgment. Guiteau’s own brother-in-law, who was not a criminal lawyer, had to defend him, and the Guiteau humiliated him in open court. Guiteau got one thing right, however. He shot the president, but the doctors killed him.

Imagine it: Garfield was shot at the railroad station. They laid him down on a horsehair mattress right there on the floor of the depot, and the doctors came and probed the wound with their bare hands, looking for the lead ball. No rubber gloves, no sterilized instruments, no thought for germs. Because at that time, Joseph Lister was still considered radical for his ideas on antiseptic surgery. It didn’t matter that European doctors were embracing his theories and saving patients.

Alexander Graham Bell also tried to come to Garfield’s rescue. He had made a huge success of his telephone, and was working on the next big thing. When he heard that the doctors couldn’t find the lead ball inside Garfield, he invented the first metal detector. The only problem was that Dr. Bliss wouldn’t allow Bell to scan Garfield’s entire body. Bliss was convinced that the ball went one way, when it had actually gone the other. Bell’s metal detector could have led them in the right direction.

But then again, if Bell had actually found the lead ball, Bliss would have wanted to operate and Garfield would have likely died in the process from infection. There were other attempts to save Garfield’s life, and even knowing that he died, I hoped that someone would have put Bliss in his place. Garfield’s wife, Lucretia, had her own doctor come — her doctor was a woman, which was equally rare. But Bliss kept everyone out, thinking he was doing the president a big favor, when he would have liked the company and could have used a second opinion.

One would think that after this assassination, security for the president would have been a big priority. Nope, not until after McKinley’s assassination does the Secret Service take on the task. Their original mission was to find counterfeiters.

The one great thing that did come out of Garfield’s death was that Chester Arthur took over and found the backbone to complete some of Garfield’s wishes. Arthur didn’t cave in to the corrupt political bosses and led the country in the best way he could. Medicine kept improving, but some doctors still think they’re gods. Some things never change.


At the book club I attend, we always go around the table and tell what other books we’ve been reading. I usually write down these recommendations and check them out later. One such recommendation was “Wool” by Hugh Howey. I checked it out on Amazon and thought, “What the heck?” I ordered it for my Kindle and I was hooked.

The premise: People on Earth have had to build underground silos in which to live because the air on the surface is toxic. Generations have gone by, and now when someone is convicted of a crime, they’re sent to cleaning. That means they’re suited up to go outside to clean the camera lenses on the sensors on the top of the silo.

No one survives cleaning, and that’s the whole idea. The rest of the folks inside the silo get a clearer picture of what’s happening outside, and they get rid of a troublemaker. Other deaths are treated more kindly: your remains become the mulch in the hydroponic gardens. The circle of life!

When one young woman actually survives cleaning and sets out over the next hill, it provokes an uprising in the silo. There are many uprisings — they become legend and lore in this culture. (She finds another silo where another uprising has killed off everyone. She has to crawl over the bodies to get inside to find oxygen.)

That’s what I love about this series — it moves quickly and every chapter brings another revelation, another turn. No one in the original silo knows that there are other silos except the very limited top echelon of leaders. One of the silo’s leaders decides to take a young man as his shadow/apprentice to learn about the history of the silos because he’s not sure who will survive the uprising.

Those who created the silos apparently knew such things were possible — they have a process manual on what to do in case of earthquake, power outage, and cleaning failure. The young woman who survives does so because her friends have replaced her hazmat suit with one that isn’t designed to fail. How’s that for planned obsolescence?

Thankfully, the young man who has a new mentor is one of the young woman’s friends. Will he survive the uprising and make it to the next silo over the next hill? I know it won’t take long for me to find out. That’s the beauty of this story: it moves quickly and doesn’t waste one’s patience on finding out the next answer.

It also doesn’t insult your intelligence by explaining every single nuance in the story. Of course they have gardens on certain levels. Of course they recycle their water and waste, and of course they have limited access to things such as wood and paper. They don’t have trees, so that makes wooden objects immediate antiques.

And yes, of course, people are going to get wise to one group knowing more than another group. And of course, that’s going to lead to strife and uprisings.

What I wonder is how the Earth’s atmosphere became toxic. Why does everyone assume there’s going to be an apocalypse? Will I see it in my lifetime?


“The Winter Boy”

Author Sally Wiener Grotta takes the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and raises it to the next level. In her post-apocalyptic novel, “The Winter Boy,” a surly teenager will become a refined man whose mission will be to help keep the Peace after the Great Chaos.

But how does one keep the peace when your enemies want nothing more than to kill you? That’s the heart of the question asked by the Alleshi, a group of women who take Blessed Boys and turn them into their knights and charge them with the task of spreading Peace to all. Standing in their way, however, are the Mwertik, who seem to delight in slaughtering anyone in their path.

Ryl is the Winter Boy, an angst-filled young man who has been paired with Rishana to be trained as an Alleman. Rishana is new to the Alleshi, having just completed her training as an Allesha, a mentor who will make a man out of the raw teenager whose father has been gone too much. And yes, sex is used as a tool to civilize the inner caveman of the Blessed Boy.

What neither Ryl nor Rishana know is that they are part of a bigger plan to bring peace to the Valley where the Mwertik have been raiding. The Mwertik slaughtered Rishana’s husband years ago. Can she put aside her hatred to better prepare Ryl? What will it take to reach the Mwertik and teach them of peace?

This novel is a perfect complement to any discussion of peace amidst violence in clashes of different cultures. Many parallels can be derived from the story line: the British coming to America and “civilizing” the Native American; the creation of knights in feudel times to honor a common mission; a single savior sent to a troubled world.

Author Grotta doesn’t give us any simple answers, but instead gives readers a place to start in the discussion of what it will take for world peace.

“The Winter Boy” is available from Pixel Hall Press.

The eBook edition of “The Winter Boy”  is now on preorder sale, at a discount price, on Amazon, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other bookstores. Date of publication is Nov. 6.

Grimm End

Take one part “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” add a dash of “Grimm” the television show, and stir in a healthy helping of gothic story-telling, and you have “Grimm End,” written by S. T. Cameron of the Fargo-Moorhead area.

What starts out feeling like a gothic horror book becomes a modern-day telling of the adventures of Sara Cross and her family. After her family’s home burns to the ground, Sara, her mother Mary, and brothers Thomas and Daniel go to live with her great grandfather at Grimm End, a scary mansion on the hill outside Shadow Bluff. Scared yet?

Sara and her family no sooner reach Shadow Bluff when other strange things start happening. All is not right in the town where the dead don’t stay dead. And they’re not zombies. They’re just not quite dead. The oldest son, Thomas, is attacked and killed by another creature known as a djinn. And that’s when Sara learns that her great grandfather has access to Pandora’s Box. Yep, that Pandora’s Box which contains all the world’s evils.

Someone is looking for the Box with evil intent. Sara would give it to them if they would just quit targeting her family. She doesn’t know who to trust, and there’s quite a cast of characters: her great grandfather, her great-uncle, a family historian, the butler, the sheriff, and the sheriff’s deputy, as well as two young women who try to take Sara under their wing as a best friend. Her younger brother Daniel has seen some crazy stuff happening, too, but he can’t talk about it because he doesn’t understand it yet.

A fantasy novel with lots of action, “Grimm End” would likely please any middle schooler or high school reader. Adults or purists who would rather not mix fairy tale with Greek mythology might find some story elements jarring. Still, it has just enough suspense and creepiness to keep kids of any age reading.




A House in the Sky

I can’t imagine how author Amanda Lindhout survived her ordeal in Somalia. Her memoir, “A House in the Sky,” co-written by Sara Corbett, tells how she and a friend Nigel were taken hostage and held for over a year while their captors waited for a big pay-off. The other thing I can’t imagine is how she comes home and creates an educational foundation.

Amanda seems so rootless and restless when we first meet her; she’s hanging out with a boyfriend, but knows she wants to travel because that’s been her dream since buying National Geographic magazines. She’s driven by her wanderlust, and works at all kinds of jobs to save money to travel. You have to give her a lot of credit for having that kind of ambition.

Finally she decides to get some job training as a photographer and journalist. She hopes this new talent can fund her journeys. She takes a few different jobs as a free-lancer, and gets a gig with a news station with an agenda. She doesn’t realize it at first, but then a more experienced journalist gives her the bad news.

Amanda remains optimistic throughout it all. She’s naive and knows it. Her travels take her all over the globe. She has a good reason to be so upbeat; nothing bad has happened except for being mugged one day. The robber takes all her money and rocks her confidence in the world. Still, Amanda wants to travel. She decides on Somalia, because that’s where all the action and danger is. The media will likely buy anything she can bring back.

Nigel and Amanda were once lovers, but they broke up when their jobs took them to opposite ends of the world. They remain friendly, and before Amanda goes to Somalia, she invites Nigel to join her. He was the one who started her interest in photography. Although Nigel has a new girlfriend, he decides to join Amanda on her latest trek.

All is going well. They have bodyguards, they have a “fixer” — someone who arranges their news-gathering trips — and they have a driver. When they arrive, their fixer is actually working for another journalist, while the second string is assigned to Amanda and Nigel. Somewhere along the way, someone sold them out. Someone took a bribe, and Amanda and Nigel are grabbed by armed terrorists.

They’re moved around the country of Somalia, usually staying around Mogadishu. Constantly under guard, their captors keep them just barely alive, feeding them a couple of times a day, and holding out for a $3 million ransom. Amanda’s family certainly doesn’t have that, but Nigel’s family could probably come up with $1 million.

Amanda and Nigel’s story is told from her point of view. She learns what’s going on at home after the fact. Her picture is on the book, so we know she survives, but what does she go through? Yes, she goes through it all — rape, torture, sensory deprivation — but not at first.

At first, the Muslim captors treat her with a certain amount of disdain — she is just a woman, and they were expecting two men journalists. They think that two men would bring a better ransom, either from the governments or the men’s families.

Amanda knows something about being a hostage, and she uses it to her advantage. She makes sure she calls the men by their names, and talks about her family and hopes and dreams. She wants to become more human to the men, rather than a product to be sold to the highest bidder. Her strategy works to some degree.

She expresses interest in their religion and actually converts to Islam. The only book she’s given to read is the Koran. She’s taught by her captors, who turn out to be mostly teenage boys. They call her Sister and give her a new name. Amanda and Nigel are constantly warned that if their ransom isn’t paid, they will be sold to another terrorist group.

In the beginning, Nigel and Amanda are held together. They’re no longer intimate, and their friendship is tested by adversity. Then they’re split up and held in different rooms. Somewhere during their captivity, the rules of the game are changed. One of the leaders rapes Amanda, and keeps raping her until he’s replaced by another captor.

Then Nigel and Amanda try to escape. Amanda makes it into a mosque where she screams and cries and implores the men there to help her. They remain impassive, and then a woman comes to Amanda’s side, and tries to keep her captors from taking her back. She is unsuccessful, and Amanda later wonders what became of that woman. She never finds out.

After that, the captors turn a corner and pull out the heavy stuff. All the boys rape Amanda on a regular basis and she is kept in a dark room where she is not allowed to stand. They don’t want her walking laps to regain any strength. She nearly escaped because of her ability to run.

Here is where the book title comes in. While Amanda is being tortured, she travels in her mind to a house in the sky. She builds rooms where she retreats from the world. She retains her sanity by detaching from her surrroundings. Smart woman.

A person never really knows how they would cope under such circumstances. Amanda and Nigel are ultimately released; their families paid a go-between to negotiate the deal. Amanda undergoes both mental and physical therapies. Her foundation’s goal is to help educate women, and in turn, prevent poverty. Good goals.

I don’t know that I could be so high-minded. This memoir will stick with me; I highly recommend it.

Jo Joe

Sometimes a book comes along where if you can get past the first two chapters, you’ll be OK. In the case of “Jo Joe,” if you can get past the second paragraph, you’re home free. Don’t overthink it, just keep reading. What threw me is that the protagonist of the story talks about going back to Black Bear, Pennsylvania, and returning to Paris.

I’ll be the spoiler here and let you know: the protagonist, Judith, has lived in Black Bear and Paris, as well as Africa, and she’s coming home to Black Bear to settle the estate of her grandmother. The people of Black Bear haven’t treated her well, so she returns with a huge chip on her shoulder.

Judith’s mother is deceased, her father has remarried, and Judith is staying with her grandparents by default. The only people that she loved and trusted were her grandparents and a boy named Joe. A big beefy guy, Joe takes Judith under his wing and protects her from the school bullies. She needs that protection because Judith isn’t like any other kid in school. She’s black, Jewish and speaks both French and English.

Judith’s initials are J and O, so Joe turns that into a personal nickname for her. Joe is taken into the family since his father is an abusive alcoholic, and Judith’s grandparents see potential in Joe. The two teens are inseparable, until their senior year when Joe suddenly turns against his beloved Jo.

Crushed by his betrayal, Judith vows to leave Black Bear and never come back. She goes to Paris to reconnect with her father, and has a brief career in investments. She follows her heart to Africa where she establishes a foundation for women in poverty.

Judith keeps in touch with her grandparents by mail and phone. They meet her in various places, but she keeps her promise to her grandmother to never return to Black Bear. And then she gets a mysterious message through the foundation that she needs to break her promise and come back to Black Bear because her grandmother is failing.

By the time Judith gets the message and gets back to the United States, however, her grandmother is already gone. Now all that’s left is to clean up the estate, sell everything off, and shake the dust from her shoes. And then she learns from the lawyer that Joe will inherit a sizeable chunk of the estate. In addition, his name appears on Grandma’s checks.

Judith hires a lawyer to contest the will, and he in turn, hires a private investigator to find out how Joe weaseled his way back into the good grandmother’s graces. But first Judith has to face her tormentors at the funeral.

Author Sally Wiener Grotta understands what it’s like to grow up in a small town, where everyone knows your business and doesn’t hesitate to gossip with others about it. Thankfully, she knows that people can either embrace those quirks or reject them. People also have the ability to learn and grow.

Spooky tales for Halloween

People who know say that Haven takes care of its own. And in “Seven From Haven” we learn in seven short stories how the community of Haven helps its residents and anyone else who may wander in.

This is not a book version of SyFy channel’s “Haven,” although both are centered around a community named Haven.  This book is actually seven short stories written by Daniel Grotta, who wrote a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Architect of Middle Earth.”

“Seven From Haven” is a kinder, gentler version of some spooky tales that would be perfect for reading at an all-ages Halloween gathering. There are no grisly descriptions of beheadings or blood-washed scenes of zombies feeding on humans. Instead it’s more like The Twilight Zone — stories that made goose bumps crawl up your arms or made you think twice about strange things that happen.

These are stories with a heart. We can feel the grief of the man whose father dies unexpectedly, we can suppress our laughter at stupid crooks with their hapless hostage, and we can feel the wonder of a new father who assists at the delivery of his baby.

In most of the stories, the reader might guess what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t dampen the satisfaction of a good ending.

“Seven From Haven” is available in both hard copy and e-book from Amazon.com.




“Letting the Cat Out…”

It’s been said that with certain stories, you had to be there to really appreciate the humor in the situation. Author Noel Mohberg grew up in southeastern North Dakota, and knows all about the Norwegian culture and makes the most of it in “Letting the Cat Out of the Bag is the SECOND Step.”

Yes, that’s an awfully long title for a book, but it’s likely a sequel to “Once You’ve Skinned the Cat, What Do You Do with the Pelt?” He says his second book is a collection of short stories, but I disagree — it’s a full-fledged book with a simple plot: two friends are out ice fishing and telling stories.

John isn’t sure why he’s been invited along on Henning’s ice fishing excursion, and then Henning tells him: John saved his life once. But that’s not the main point of the story. No, the main point is basically Henning telling about his hapless existence, beginning when he was a boy with an abusive father.

Back then his father wouldn’t have been identified as abusive, but “tough.” Henning resorted to blaming his brother to escape beatings now and then, and Henning’s brother could be considered a bully, too. (And these days we know why the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

Those painful memories aside, Henning has some stories that are sure to spur a recollection in someone of that era. If you don’t remember coming out of a theater on a Saturday in December with a bag of popcorn, candy and an apple, you might as well put the book back on the shelf.

Mohberg himself cautions the reader that if they don’t get the humor to close the book and find something else to read. Some of the chapters in the novel beg to be read aloud. That might be the only way you’ll catch some of the humor. (Barstuhl, North Dakota? OK, barstool.)

Henning talks about the farm chores — milking the cows, catching the cows that have wandered from their pasture, putting chores before school. In the chapter that is the inspiration for the title, Henning and his father take burlap bags to their neighbor’s farm to collect near-feral cats to take home to their barn to keep the rat population down.

The description of putting the cats into the bags is laugh-out-loud funny. Someone with pampered kitties might not find it so amusing, but I’m a dog person. I loved it. And I also understand how someone growing up on a farm never gets too attached to an animal, because it might be supper someday.

Henning has one adventure after another. He receives a special rope for Christmas and practices roping with the dream of someday competing in a local rodeo. Not too many people enter the roping contest, so he figures he can win a prize even at last place. And then the rope breaks.

Henning rides his horse across a neighbor’s field while he’s hunting. Instead of the prey he’s hoping to find, Henning is sprayed in the face by a skunk. Mohberg describes the pain and despair with such accuracy, you have to wonder if it didn’t happen to him.

Henning falls off his horse and is forced to take refuge in the haystack. The horse wanders off, leaving Henning alone with his thoughts. Will his remains be found next spring when his neighbor feeds the hay to his cattle? Or will his family find his carcass as a frozen parcel after the snowstorm?

Henning and his fishing partner John have a parallel problem. Their four-wheeler has sunk into the lake, their phone batteries have died, and without GPS, the men will never find their way from the fish house on the lake to the resort. Will someone find them before the fish house sinks, too? Or will their carcasses wash up on a shore somewhere?

“Letting the Cat Out of the Bag is the SECOND Step” is available from Amazon.com.