Superior Reads

A PLACE FOR READERS AND WRITERS

RayAnne is back in Sarah Stonich’s REELING; in this second volume of RayAnne’s adventures, the show is going on the road – all the way to New Zealand.

As the host of public television’s first all-woman fishing talk show, RayAnne knows a thing or two about fishing. What she’s less knowledgeable about is relationships.

The same quirky, endearing cast of characters from FISHING! form the backdrop of REELING. RayAnne and her mother, Bernadette, bond briefly after her grandmother Dot’s death, but then they’re off on their disparate adventures – RayAnne to New Zealand to film the new season of Fishing and Bernadette to some far-flung location to mentor post-menopausal women on their Blood Tide Quests. Big Rick, RayAnne’s father, is married to his sixth wife, a born-again evangelical, and her brother is trying to resist the temptation of his wife’s gorgeous cousin who has the hots for him. Meanwhile, Hal, RayAnne’s sponsor and boyfriend is dog-sitting Rory (again). She could bring Rory to the DogGone Inn, but Rory’s not crazy about other dogs. “Like RayAnne, he can be awkward around his own species.” Cassi, her intrepid producer falls for a hobbit, and keeping in step with the craziness, RayAnne’s dead grandmother, Dot, keeps showing up in the most unlikely places: her Ipad, her phone, her rear-view mirror.

RayAnne’s relationship with Hal isn’t brand new, but because she travels so much of the time, she isn’t sure yet if she can trust it. With a father who’s a serial-husband and a mother who eschews commitment but not necessarily sex, no wonder RayAnne is wary. She measures every relationship in the present by those from her past.

Stonich has a gift for revealing vulnerability in the most unlikely places. RayAnne’s first interview in New Zealand is with Ellie Mann, a tough-talking, tuna trawler captain who puts her to work throwing bait out the back of the boat. Donning a helmet with a visor to protect her from the fish frenzy that follows, RayAnne feels an unfamiliar squeamishness at reaching into a pail of live bait.

“She never used to be squeamish about such things; it’s just that since Gran, she’s become so aware of the frailness of living creatures and thinks too much about skin – such a ridiculously frail membrane between life and death.”

RayAnne wonders if Dot is coming back to teach her some important lesson, or if by keeping her on the hook, her grandmother is prevented from entering the eternal rest she so deserves. Moving on, Dot tells her, is a choice. Stonich casts these words casually out on the page, but they’re layered with meaning.

Lucky for us, there will be one more book in the Fishing Trilogy. As I closed REELING with the sadness you feel when saying goodbye to a friend, even if only temporarily, I held onto Gran’s closing words:

“It’s not the end of the world, Bean. You think you’ve come to the end, but all you need to do is turn the corner and there, waiting, is the next perfect thing.”

I’ll be waiting expectantly for RayAnne’s next adventure.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP radio 90.7 Grand Marais, or on the web at wtip.org.

At the dawn of summer 2020, with the world spinning from the Covid 19 pandemic, Minneapolis went into a nose dive after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. In the weeks and months that followed, Minneapolis became the epicenter of worldwide demands for justice. In a compelling new collection, WE ARE MEANT TO RISE, edited by Carolyn Holbrook and David Mura, Indigenous writers and writers of color bear witness to one of the most unsettling years in the history of the United States.

Marcie Rendon, Anishinabe author and citizen of the White Earth Nation, ends her essay describing the seven clans of the Anishinabe, fish, marten, bear, deer, crane, loon, bird, eagle, and wolf – each clan responsible for a different role – the bear clan serving as both police (protectors) and healers: “Imagine a world,” she writes, “where the police (protectors) and healers are one.”

Kao Kalia Lang, Hmong author, tells of a time when she “cleaned” her older sister Dawb’s room, selling off her beloved CDs for pennies. Admonishing her after the fact, her father says, “If you can’t get along with each other, how are you going to get along with the world?” He taught her that a person’s goodness starts in a family, then extends to a community, and grows out from there.

Shannon Gibney, African American author, quotes Baldwin “Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame . . . any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality.” Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, George Floyd – all of them – Gibney writes, like Baldwin’s stars aflame, their voices shaking heaven and earth to their foundation.

WE ARE MEANT TO RISE was born of Carolyn Holbrook’s “More Than a Single Story,” a series of panel discussions and public conversations that she created to offer a platform for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color writers and arts activists. David Mura, co-editor, writes that the anthology is offered as an encouragement for each of us, no matter our ethnicity, to speak out, tell our story, and own our power.

WE ARE MEANT TO RISE is a testimony to the strength, power, and resilience of a community, and inspires all of humanity to rise up higher to serve a greater good.

I recommend WE ARE MEANT TO RISE for readers interested in political and community action, for activists and artists and people of all races and ethnicities. Preorders are currently available. November 23, 2021 release from University of Minnesota Press.

Author Stephanie Watson asked herself: what if everything you had ever drawn, from doodles to sketches came to life and went to live in a magical world? That, she says, is the big idea behind her newest middle grade novel, PENCILVANIA, illustrated by Sofia Moore. In this modern take on THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH meets HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, Watson explores a child’s grief through a fantasy world of the child’s own creation.

Since she was little, Zora has liked to draw. Whenever she puts a marker, or a crayon, or a pencil to the page, something inside her takes over – her Voom – it starts as a single spark and grows to countless balls of light zooming around inside of her. Her mother, also an artist, recognizes her daughter’s gift and encourages her need to create. Art is the thing that most connects Zora to her mother . . . until she is diagnosed with leukemia. When she dies, Zora and her sister Frankie leave their beloved Lake Superior behind and move to Pittsburg to live with their Grandmother Wren. Though loving and well-intentioned, Grandmother Wren is ill-equipped to deal with the depth of Zora’s grief. In a fit of rage, Zora scribbles out her artwork and she and Frankie fall through the pages into a world comprised of all the animals and creatures Zora has ever drawn. Viscardi – a scribbled out horse – is determined to finish the destruction that Zora began. He kidnaps Frankie and Zora is challenged by her determination never to draw again – when drawing is the only thing left to save them.

Watson has a keen understanding of childhood grief. Her shimmering descriptions of Zora’s artful world and the animals that inhabit it are brought to life by Moore’s illustrations. Zora’s pain is palpable and may be overwhelming for sensitive readers, but her fierce devotion to her sister Frankie, coupled with her courage in the face of grief, will inspire young artists and encourage readers who have faced similar losses and challenges. The message of the power of love and art to heal the brokenhearted will transcend all generations.

I recommend Pencilvania for fans of Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road and Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on WTIP Radio, 90.7, Grand Marais, Minnesota and on the web at wtip.org.

#ump #sarahstonich #womensfiction #humor #literaryfiction #heatherskinner

Loved this book and honored to have my blurb included!

Nearly everyone in the United States has been touched in some way by the opioid epidemic, including Dr. Amy Sullivan and her family. Her book, Opioid Reckoning – Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State presents first hand accounts of the families battling to keep their children alive, in spite of a system that has held fast to the tenets of traditional addiction treatment programs.

The author notes that opioid related deaths have become so prevalent in the United States that the overall life expectancy for all Americans has decreased as a result. Between 1999 and 2019, more than 500,000 Americans died from drug overdoses involving opioids.

Dr. Sullivan collected 60 interviews over a four year period for her Minnesota Opioid Project – speaking with embattled mothers like herself, medical and social work professionals, and activists — for their insights and potential solutions.

Opioid Reckoning questions current treatment models, healthcare inequities, and the criminal justice system. In gathering these personal stories, Sullivan confronts the stigma of opioid addiction and offers hope and empathy for anyone affected by this devastating addiction.
Spencer Johnson struggled with his addiction for years before ultimately dying from a heroin overdose in a bathroom at his halfway house. His parents, devastated by the stigma and shame, did everything in their power to help their son.

“Spencer Johnson had a secure and happy childhood. He was born to loving attentive parents . . . the stereotype of illegal drug users being from broken homes, having absent or abusive parents, and raised in abject poverty still exists, but the recent predominance of white, male opioid users with social and economic privilege, loving parents, and ample access to resources has added a new dimension to the history of drug addiction in the United States,” Sullivan writes.

Spencer had initially been prescribed Percocet after a sore throat, and later opiate painkillers after a bout of appendicitis, eventually resorting to heroin which was cheaper, stronger, and readily available. He found success in treatment only when he was finally prescribed Suboxone, but his halfway house would not allow the use of medication to control opioid cravings, in spite of the fact that drugs like Suboxone and Methadone have been very effective at treating heroin and opioid addiction.

“Even if a person wants to quit, the physical and mental cravings, combined with intense and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, are often too difficult to handle without significant medical and psychological help,” Sullivan writes. “Using medications for opioid use disorders was somehow a lesser and morally weaker achievement than complete abstinence.”

Many of the mothers that Sullivan interviewed worked to change the system and Sullivan stood with them. Judy and Bill Rummler, formed the Steve Rummler Hope Network, following their son’s overdose death in 2011. Eventually, they were able to pass legislation for Steve’s Law, the purpose of which was to increase training and access to the opioid antidote Narcan for law enforcement, EMTs, and the general public.

In 2016, Sullivan began teaching “Uses and Abuses: Drugs, Addiction, and Recovery” at Macalaster College. She wanted to change the perception of harm reduction as “bad” in her classroom by bringing in a local harm-reduction professional to train her students to use naloxone, providing each of them with a kit. During the pandemic, she taught the class on line and delivered kits to her students through the mail. In November 2020, she received an email from a student living on campus:

“Thought you would be interested to know that I just revived a guy on the bus with the two vials of naloxone you gave me. It was pretty crazy; he was blue and I just drew up the vials and gave it to him! He revived after the second dose and was up and gone before the paramedics arrived. I just wanted to say thanks for handing out the naloxone in your class.”

Dr. Sullivan’s work on behalf of addiction and treatment is remarkable and Opioid Reckoning offers a glimpse into the faces of the epidemic. With heart and soul and considerable scholarship, Sullivan has written a book that offers hope and help for anyone affected by addiction.

Listen to my interview with Dr. Amy Sullivan about her book Opioid Reckoning on November 25 at 7:00 pm and Saturday, November 27 at 6:00 am on Superior Reads, WTIP 90.7 in Grand Marais, and on the web at wtip.org.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.

Ashley C. Ford’s debut memoir, SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER is a moving portrait of a girl longing for a relationship with a father who is incarcerated. Ashley grew up not knowing the crime for which her father was imprisoned, but that didn’t stop her from imagining him as the father of her dreams.

Raised by a single mother who was volatile and unpredictable, Ashley looked to her father’s letters for encouragement and love.

“Letter upon letter filled with “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “Smile,” “You’re beautiful,” “You’re so smart,” and a host of other things every young girl wants to hear from her dad.”

There were no other reliable father figures in Ashley’s life. The closest she would come to fatherly love and guidance would be through her dad’s letters from prison. Her mother had numerous boyfriends and Ashley had several half-siblings, but none of those men were loving or kind to Ashley and they were often absent, leaving her mother to raise her children alone.

Ashley’s grandmother was the most reliable adult in her life and in fact, she moved in with her grandmother for a time when her mother suffered the loss of an infant. She felt loved by her grandmother, and they enjoyed spending time together, but after a year away, Ashley’s mother wanted her to return home.

In adolescence, as her body began to change, Ashley became uncomfortable with the looks of older men. She hooked up with a boy that her mother disliked, who professed his love for her too soon and too enthusiastically, and when she ended the relationship, he raped her. For years, she did not tell anyone, but it left her feeling unworthy and unloved.

The question that preoccupied her the most was what her father would think of her when she met him in person. When she finally visited him in prison, he did not disappoint. She’d started writing about her family, her mother, her grandmother, and her father. It took courage to look at her family honestly, but she continued to write her truth. As she visited her father in prison, she told him about her writing, concerned that it would fracture their fragile relationship. But his response was genuine and encouraging.

“When you sent me one of your stories, I thought, damn. I must be the luckiest fool in the world. I got me a daughter who’s smart, beautiful, and she’s a writer. A real one. A good one. I’m so proud of you, Ashley.”

SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER is a heartbreaking story about a girl growing up in poverty, famished for love and acceptance, searching for an identity outside of the broken family she’d grown up in. But rather than remaining a victim, Ashley C. Ford becomes the heroine of her story, and the only one she needed to save her, was herself.

I recommend SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER for fans of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Read all my reviews and listen to my author interviews on www.superiorreads.blog.

RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson was born of one question — What happened to black people’s wealth? In Woodson’s attempt to answer that question, she writes in her author’s note, characters were born, events were remembered, and lives in all their beauty and despair are lived on the page. RED AT THE BONE is a compact novel of trauma and recovery, and all the messiness in between.

The novel opens with the coming-of-age party for Melody, sixteen and wearing a dress originally intended for her mother, Iris. An unexpected teenage pregnancy changed everything for Iris and her boyfriend Aubrey, who at fifteen years old became parents before they became anything else. From there, Woodson moves us flawlessly backward and forward in time to tell the story of a family whose dreams were once burned, yet they rose from the ashes.

“You remember your parents living, wrap the ancient photos of Lucille’s Hair Heaven and Papa Joe’s Supper Club pulled from the flames . . . and you rise. You rise. You rise.”

A multigenerational tale, RED AT THE BONE is remarkable in its brevity. Woodson pokes gingerly at race, class, gentrification, sexual orientation, parenting, and loss. Spanning nearly a hundred years from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre to the tragedy of 9/11, Woodson has a keen understanding of the human condition.

Sabe, Melody’s grandmother and Iris’ mother,  knows a thing or two, and Woodson’s lyrical touch makes her wisdom sing. She’s shared the stories of how they burned her grandmama’s beauty shop to the ground, and her daddy’s restaurant, and how her own mama carries a scar in the shape of a heart, because they tried to burn her too. “History tries to call it a riot,” Woodson writes, “but it was a massacre.”  The whites came with the intention of erasing their businesses, their schools, and their lives, and even though it happened before Sabe was born, she carried the memory of it. It was important to her to teach her child and her grandchild about what happened. Sabe is the thread that stitches the past to the present.

I recommend RED AT THE BONE for fans of Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and Toni Morrison’s SULA.

This is Lin Salibury with Superior Reviews. Read all my reviews and listen to my author interviews at http://www.superiorreads.blog.

Midwest Book Award-winning poet and baker Klecko is back with LINCOLNLAND, subtitled as his Pandemic Diary. You’ll remember Klecko from his award-winning HITMAN, BAKER, CASKETMAKER, Aftermath of an American’s Clash with ICE chronicling the fall of St. Agnes Bakery and the failure of our immigration system.

Inspired by a dream, Klecko travels the country in search of Lincoln’s ghost in LINCOLNLAND, asks the legendary George Saunders for writing advice, flies kites with another literary hero Leif Enger, and pays homage to the Beatles in a tribute to his late friend Michael Finley. While the rest of us learned to bake bread during the pandemic, Klecko, already a master in that department, applied his energy and mind to poetry, something that he’s also very accomplished at, but feels fresh with this newest volume of his work.

LINCOLNLAND reads more like a diary than a poem. Klecko’s mind impresses. One discovery, leads to another discovery, to another state, phone call, book, or letter.  

Klecko was a self-professed hater of the Beatles – old people’s music – but the loss of his friend Michael Finley drove him to do a deep-dive into their music and their history. Chronicled in “Intermission” — he does it like Klecko does these things – down the rabbit hole, reading, books, magazines, articles on the internet—all the way to the bottom where he found a story about John Lennon’s killer and his wife, Gloria. So he contacted her. And May Pang, Lennon’s former lover. He contacted her, too. Of course he did. Of course.

Klecko still bakes. I interviewed him for Superior Reads during a break in his day. He’s a poet, and a baker, and a fascinating human. Read LINCOLNLAND, you won’t regret it.

Listen to my interview with Klecko on October 28 at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads, WTIP, 90.7 Grand Marais and on the web at http://www.wtip.org.

Jai Chakrabarti’s A PLAY FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a moving novel about survival guilt and the emotional cost of war, as well as the power of art and love to heal.

In New York City 1972, Jaryk Smith, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lucy Gardener, a free-spirited southerner newly arrived to the city, fall in love and are just opening up to each other when Jaryk’s oldest childhood friend unexpectedly dies in India. Jaryk travels there to retrieve his ashes and soon finds himself enmeshed in the political turmoil of the newly arrived refugees from Bangladesh. His friend, Misha had gone there to help produce a play in protest of the government – a play that Jaryk and Misha had performed as children in the ghetto – and one that Jaryk feels compelled to stay in India to produce in memory of his friend. Lucy knows little of Jaryk’s past and feels the sting of rejection when he refuses to return home to her. Stuck between his past and his future, Jaryk must make a courageous decision.

At the center of the novel is a play written by Tagore, Dak Ghar, performed by the children in the ghetto, and directed by their loving caregiver as a way to prepare the children for a future they could not comprehend, while in India, the children performing the play are a pawn in the hands of a professor with political motivations.

Chakrabarti has a keen sense of timing – oscillating the storyline backward and forward to reveal Jaryk’s motivation, his heart-wrenching past, and his fear of moving into a future as a sole survivor of the orphanage where his story began.

A PLAY FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a provocative meditation on love, war, politics, and art. I highly recommend it for fans of historical fiction. Listen to my interview with Jai Chakrabarti on September 23 at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads, 90.7 Grand Marais, or on the web at www.wtip.org.

In her profoundly moving first novel, THE SEED KEEPER, Diane Wilson tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing and her family’s struggle to preserve their cultural heritage. Flashing back and forth in time from Rosalie’s present day, to her early childhood, to the lives of her ancestors, Wilson reveals the devastation wreaked by white settlers on the family’s way of life.

Abandoned by her mother at the age of four, and orphaned at the age of twelve after her father’s death, Rosalie was sent to live with a white foster family, where her soul withered as her native beliefs and practices were disparaged. When a white farmer asks her to marry him, Rosalie is hesitant – her father had warned her about such unions, but Rosalie had few options and John seemed to mirror her own sense of loneliness. At eighteen, she knows little of her family or her cultural heritage.

As the book opens, Rosalie, recently widowed, returns to the cabin from which she was taken as a child.  She is broken. Her husband is dead, and she is estranged from their only child, a son, who wishes to continue the farming practices that most likely contributed to the death of his father. At the cabin, Rosalie comes slowly back to life, nurtured by the woods, the river, and her childhood memories, as well as the kindness of a neighbor.

Woven throughout, are chapters told from the perspective of Rosalie’s ancestors who had been stripped of their land and their way of life – Marie Blackbird and her family were scattered when the fighting broke out in 1862, hiding from soldiers who were rounding up the men and imprisoning them, stealing their dried meat and trampling their carefully planted gardens of beans and corn. The women, recognizing that their future depended on their store of seeds, carried them sewn into their skirt hems into the future.

These stories, juxtaposed against Rosalie’s, as she witnesses the destructive farming practices on her husband’s farm and the harm it causes to the environment and the people who currently live on the land, hone the story’s message: the imperative to return to more sustainable practices, and to a place of reverence and respect for the land, the plants, the animals, and the lives that depend upon them.

In her Author’s Note, Diane Wilson writes that the book was inspired by a story she’d heard while participating in the Dakhota Commemorative March, a 150 mile walk to honor the Dakhota people who were forcibly removed from Minnesota in 1863, in the aftermath of the US-Dakhota War. The women on that original march had little time to prepare for their removal, but knew they would have to find a way to feed their families in whatever place they were being sent, so they sewed seeds into the hems of their skirts and hid more in their pockets.

“The strength these women demonstrated, the profound love they showed for their children, and their willingness to make sacrifices so the people would survive became the heart of this book.” She writes, “These women are the reason why we have Dakhota corn today.”

THE SEED KEEPERS is a lyrical love song written for those Dakhota women. I highly recommend it for fans of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s BRAIDING SWEETGRASS.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my interview with Diane Wilson on Superior Reads this September and register to take a class with Diane at the Grand Marais Art Colony in November.

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