Superior Reads

A PLACE FOR READERS AND WRITERS

THE RELATIONSHIP BOOK by Rachel Awes, MA, LP, is billed as a soulful, transformational, and artistic inventory of your connective life — and it does not disappoint. I came to this book from a place of deep loss, my mother had just died, and I could not imagine what my life could or would look like without my life’s most significant and influential relationship.

Rachel Awes is a psychologist whose therapeutic practice focuses on self-esteem, affirmation, and creative play. As I worked my way through THE RELATIONSHIP BOOK, chapter by chapter, I felt a warm blanket of love envelope me. Rachel delves into all the facets of our relationships – the difficult ones and the carefree ones – our relationships with other people, yes, but also with community, with divinity, with animals, and with ourselves. Gratitude and acceptance are at the core of all these relationships, as well as living with intention and authenticity.

This page in particular hit hard, written from the perspective of a daughter sitting in that sacred moment with her mother before her death:

“I will wonder if my words have been kind enough, if I have conveyed enough empathy, listened enough, was present enough. I will hope to forgive myself generously for when I have fallen short and feel a peace wash over me for the moments my love has found a way forward. My (own) ending will be a nod to my beginning, when nearby loved ones searched for my ten fingers and toes. Only later it is I who will be doing the looking, for a beloved hand to hold and essential eyes to gaze into, and it is all that will matter.”

The Relationship Book is full of vibrant colors and images, thought-provoking quotes from Rachel’s clients (with permission, of course) and an invitation, always, always to “become the person you want to be with” so that all your relationships can flow from that place. Most of the time the faces she has drawn throughout the book don’t include eyes, noses, or mouths – they are “listening faces – drawn for you to see your own life in them.”

THE RELATIONSHIP BOOK is Rachel Awes’ fourth book and like the other three, it is an inspiring and whimsical look at all the possibilities of life, an illustrated personal inventory book that uses positive psychology to bring more love and joy into life.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews the fourth Thursday of every month on Superior Reads, WTIP Radio, 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream them from the web at http://www.wtip.org.

When author Anne-Marie Oomen’s mother was diagnosed with dementia and in need of more care, she was forced to confront her angst-ridden relationship with a mother whom she hadn’t much liked for most of her life. AS LONG AS I KNOW YOU; THE MOM BOOK recounts the struggle to help a mother who doesn’t want help by a daughter who would rather not. The result is a poetic, emotionally charged reckoning between mother and daughter, a year in which both women come to terms with their short-comings and resentments and develop a new kind of relationship.

When Oomen’s mother breaks her foot and it doesn’t heal properly, it sets the family on a new path – they must place their mother in a nursing home. On top of the physical issues, her mother also has Alzheimer’s. Her needs have become too overwhelming for the assisted living facility where she has lived. Oomen, as the eldest daughter, along with a sister Marijo, have power-of-attorney over their mother’s health care and she has signed an advanced directive that she should be given comfort care only. But what does that really mean to her mother, Oomen wonders? She asks her “Can you tell me what makes life worth living for you?” And her mother answers, “As long as I know you.” Her mother expresses that the most important thing to her is her relationship with her children and that if she ever got to a place where she did not recognize them, life would not be worth living.

Oomen learns as she goes. One day, in the facility where her mother lives, she witnesses another mother asking her daughter who she is – she does not recognize her own daughter any longer. But the daughter, patiently, lovingly, without regard to her own loss, asks her mother, “Who are you?” and answers for her, “You are Elizabeth and you are my mother.” Oomen writes,

“Today, I watched another adult daughter love her elder mother better than I imagined possible. I saw what a daughter could do, how a daughter might see the real question, might set aside her own need to be seen. I saw how it could be done, how a mother who had lost herself could be given back at least her name, led out of the desert of loss.”

There are many moments in AS LONG AS I KNOW YOU, that will be familiar to anyone who has been a caregiver of an elderly parent – the power struggles, the heart-wrenching decision making, and the unabashed tenderness and expressions of love that are unbound as a loved one faces the end.

As she cares for her mother, Oomen’s former anger, resentment, and frustration with her mother abate. She embraces her mother, and the time they have left, and in doing so, she saves herself.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of every month at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads, WTIP Radio, 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.

Colson Whitehead is the winner of two back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his novels UNDERGROUND RAILROAD and THE NICKEL BOYS, both based on tragic histories – slavery and the murder of young black prisoners at a Florida reform school. His newest novel, out last year, HARLEM SHUFFLE, is the story of would-be entrepreneur, Ray Carney, who gets sidetracked into a heist or two too many. Set in 1959 during the Harlem Race Riots, HARLEM SHUFFLE is a parody of the modern crime novel. Where do you draw the line between a savvy business decision and criminal activity?

Ray is a family man with two kids and a wife and runs a furniture store in Harlem. He claims to be just a little bent, not crooked – selling a few pre-owned pieces of furniture and fencing the occasional piece of jewelry. His father was an actual criminal, and he learned the hard way what it’s like to have an absentee father. Ray and his cousin Freddie are close – raised like brothers – and someone has to keep an eye on him. Freddie pressures him into fencing jewelry from a heist at Theresa’s Hotel – the Waldorf of Harlem. From there, Ray is sucked deeper into a vortex of ambiguity. Who are the real criminals when the police are on the take? When his accountant father-in-law who disdains him, calling him a rug peddler and unworthy of his daughter, finds loopholes for his clients to avoid paying their taxes? What’s a guy to do to get ahead? Ray wants nothing more than to provide for his family, and dreams of moving to the West Side and Riverside Drive. Like the proverbial frog thrown into a cold pot, the heat under Ray rises so slowly that he has no clue until he’s cooked.

The action in HARLEM SHUFFLE is fast and furious and lends high comedy to the novel. Everyone is just trying to get by, after all, who can blame them? Whitehead has a way of making us think we’re looking through a window into another world with his novels, and then shifting the light so that we realize we’re looking in a mirror. But you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on Superior Reads the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio, 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.

Jane Smiley’s newest novel, A DANGEROUS BUSINESS, set in Gold Rush California in 1851, is a murder mystery featuring two young prostitutes who follow a trail of missing and murdered girls. Eliza Ripple’s husband was killed in a bar fight, and though she doesn’t much miss him, the only way she can support herself is by going to work in a brothel. The men are relatively behaved, and those that aren’t are kicked out by the madam, Mrs. Parks, or her strong arm, Carlos. Her friend Jean works in a brothel across town that services women, a more genteel clientele. Eliza and Jean are inspired by reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Murder in the Rue Morgue” and they study the techniques of the amateur detective, Dupin. Piecing together the clues, characters, and likely motivations, the young detectives sleuth their way into a dangerous situation.

Eliza and Jean are determined to make their way in a world that caters to men, and have been cautioned by Mrs. Parks that their work, and even their being (that of being female in a male world), is dangerous business.

This story of an unlikely pair of detectives, inspired by one of literatures first detectives, is a window into the world of mid-nineteenth century women living in a male-dominated world and the rough and tumble world of prospectors, sailors, and the Wild West of a bygone era.

Recommended for fans of detective and historical fiction with a strong sense of place. This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my interview with Jane Smiley on December 22 at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio, 90;7 Grand Marais or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org. Listen to all my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marias or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.

It’s that time of year that begs for a fire in the firebox and a big, fat book. Joanna Quinn’s debut novel, THE WHALEBONE THEATRE, a 540-page family saga, is the perfect accompaniment to the cold nights ahead.

The book opens when our heroine, Cristabel Seagrave is yet three years old. Her mother has died and her father, Jasper, has taken a new bride, Rosalind, who loathes them both. Cristabel is unabashed, she sees Rosalind as merely a vehicle for a little brother. Much to her dismay, Rosalind delivers a baby girl named Flossie instead. When Cristabel’s father falls from his horse in a drunken stupor and dies, he is quickly replaced in Rosalind’s affections by his younger brother Willoughby. Cristabel will gain a boy cousin, Digby, in that coupling.

The children in THE WHALEBONE THEATRE are left to themselves, running like savages along the shore. The adult caregivers, Rosalind and Willoughby and their cadre of bohemian friends, are feckless and libertine. At times, Cristabel is the only adult in the room. When she’s twelve, a whale washes up on their beach and Cristabel plants a flag in it, declaring it hers. From the bones, she fashions a theatre where the children stage elaborate recreations of Shakespearean plays – recruiting the adults to participate as actors, set-builders, and costumers. Cristabel is the ringleader, producer, and director.

Opening in 1919, THE WHALEBONE THEATRE spans the Second World War and its aftermath. The children, their parents, and their rotating cast of hedonistic friends, live in Dorset on the sea in Chilcombe Manor. Cristabel, Flossie, and Digby live separate lives from the adults, sleeping in an attic garret with maid Maudie, their education stolen books and newspapers from the library downstairs.

By the time the war breaks out, Cristabel and Digby, now adults, enlist and become spies in occupied France, but Flossie remains behind at crumbling Chilcombe, working for the Land Army and falling in love with a German POW who is assigned the task of helping her grow vegetables for the war effort. The children have traded their outgrown costumes for a new sort — uniforms and overalls – each embracing their role in the theater of war.

THE WHALEBONE THEATRE is a stunning debut – full of adventure and intrigue, Dickensian characters, and a mildewed mansion on the seaside. Joanna Quinn sets the stage for an immersive read, an escape from the doldrums of winter.

Listen to my interview with Joanna Quinn on Superior Reads on October 27 at 7:00 pm on WTIP 90.7 Grand Marais or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org. This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.

Dr. Anton Treuer is Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University. He has a B.A. from Princeton University, M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. He is Editor of the Oshkaabewis (pronounced o-shkaah-bay-wis) Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language and author of 9 books. In his essential, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, Treuer takes readers through 120 questions – modern and historical, simple and complex, silly and serious, to create a greater understanding and knowledge of Native American people and culture.

Living on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a mere twenty miles from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, commonly known as the Grand Portage Anishinaabe, I have a responsibility to learn and understand more about the first people that inhabited this area. They are my friends and neighbors, and I often don’t verbalize the questions I have because I don’t want to say anything offensive or reveal my ignorance. Treuer’s book is a straightforward path through what could be a minefield, one that to be honest, creates anxiety and for me and impairs genuine connection and communication.

The book is divided into sections — Terminology, History, Religion, Culture & Identity, Politics, Education, Social Activism, and Finding Ways to Make a Difference. Treuer lists the questions and answers to common subjects that have been asked throughout his teaching and speaking career. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is an essential addition to every reference library.

Anton Treuer will be the Featured Speaker at the 2022 North House Folk School Winter Gathering in Grand Marais, Minnesota on November 19 at 7:30 pm. Additionally, the Cook County Community Read for November will be Anton Treuer’s The Cultural Toolbox; Traditional Ojibwe Living in the Modern World. Join in the conversation on November 17 from 5:30-7:30 at  Cook County Higher Education.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews and reviews on Superior Reads, WTIP Radio, Grand Marais, Minnesota and on the web at http://www.wtip.org.

Peter Geye has written five novels, three of them in a multigenerational saga that followed sixty years of the travails and trespasses of the Eide family from the fictional town of Gunflint, Minnesota. His newest novel, The Ski Jumpers, is the tale of Jon Bargaard, a novelist recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, who wants to tell one last story – one about his family – starting with Pops, once a champion ski jumper who taught Jon and his younger brother Anton the sport. Jon has spent a lifetime running from his family story and he wants to set it right before he is no longer able.

Every jumper knows the feeling – the stall – the moment, Geye writes, when you reach the perfect position, suspended in air like a bird on a gyre. But it’s the landing that counts. Jon has one last shot to make reparations to his brother, who won’t take his calls, and to make peace with the ghost of his father and the secrets that cleaved the family in two.

The novel opens with Pops and his pregnant lover fleeing Chicago for Minneapolis, with a notoriously ruthless gangster in pursuit. On a trip to visit their daughter in the North Woods, Jon tries to tell his wife Ingrid the truth about his past – a past that put his father in prison and his mother in an asylum – leaving eighteen-year-old Jon alone to care for his younger brother Anton.

The past is a slippery thing, and memory as elusive as the perfect telemark landing, especially when it is complicated by a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and a lifetime of hiding from the truth. Geye writes with a musicality that soars above the complex plot of The Ski Jumpers. The novel moves back and forth in time and place – moving from Duluth, where Jon and his wife currently live, to the North Woods of Minnesota where he visits his daughter and her partner, and to Minneapolis, where Jon and his brother Anton grew up skiing in Theodore Wirth Park and jumping from the Highland Ski Jump in Bloomington. If you’re a fan of arresting family dramas with a bit of a twist, complex and provocative characters, breathtaking landscapes wrapped in luminous prose, The Ski Jumpers is your next read.

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

Set in 1964, Chris Bojahlian’s newest novel, The Lioness tells the story of A-list actress Katie Barstow and her entourage as they travel to the Serengeti after her recent marriage to David Hill. Katie generously pays the way for several of their friends, her brother and his wife, her agent, and publicist following her wedding. The group envisions a civilized adventure – spending their days taking photos of giraffes and zebras and elephants, and their evenings drinking gin and tonics with fresh ice from a kerosene-powered ice maker, while their Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths.

What they do not expect is what ensues – a violent kidnapping gone wrong, their guides murdered, and a team of Russian mercenaries holding guns to their heads and spitting the group up among several Land Rovers.

What follows is a mystery of sorts, an action adventure film spooling out on the page, as Bohjalian runs us through the possible scenarios for who is responsible and why this group of Hollywood lions is being held in huts across the Serengeti.

Recently, I’ve found myself on the road quite a bit so I listened to The Lioness on audiobook. It was a compelling listen. I enjoyed the three narrators – one a Hollywood reporter covering the trip. The exotic setting, retro Hollywood era, and the pacing made my road trip fly by.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of the month at 7:00 pm and the following Saturday at 6:00 am.

Whether Dani Shapiro is writing fiction or memoir, her writing is always reflective and wise. Signal Fires, her first novel in fifteen years, follows on the heels of her poignant memoir Inheritance, and, like that memoir, examines the complexities of family relationships and the secrets that bind them together and tear them apart.

Signal Fires opens in the Summer of 1985 with three teenagers. They are drinking … and driving. Before the night is over, one of the teenagers will be dead. The other two, siblings Sarah and Theo, will be trapped in a lie for the next three decades, and their father, Dr. Benjamin Wilf, the first to arrive on the scene, will be complicit. Like the car wrapped around the tree, their shame and guilt will bind them so tightly they will not be able to extricate themselves from it. The only way for each of them to survive is to remain silent about what happened that night in 1985.

The novel moves backward and forward in time … 1985, 1999, 2010, 2014, 2020, and finally back to 1970 when the Wilf family was just beginning, and everything was still possible. Time compresses and expands. The past is never too far away.

Sarah and Theo tentatively move forward with their lives. Theo becomes a renowned chef and Sarah becomes a successful Hollywood writer and producer. They put distance between themselves and their parents to distance themselves from the past. Sarah will push everyone away and layer over the lie with alcohol, drugs, and an affair … but none of it will work.

By the time the Shenkmans move in across the street, Dr. Wilf is retired. When Mrs. Shenkman goes into premature labor, Dr. Wilf delivers baby Waldo, whose cord is wrapped around his neck, and saves his life. When lonely ten-year-old Waldo befriends Dr. Wilf through a shared interest in astronomy, something his father eschews, they are both saved.

“It’s possible to grow up in the wrong house, on the wrong street, in the wrong town, in the wrong part of the country. It’s possible to go to the wrong school. To have the wrong dad. To be pushed to do the wrong things. But it is also possible to survive all these psychic indignities if you have one, maybe two people who recognize you for who you are,” Shapiro writes.

Sarah and Theo return home when their mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and Shapiro weaves together all the threads of these tattered families. The novel is a poignant story about secrets and the desperate things that people do to keep them. Shapiro writes with heart and soul about our connections to people and to nature.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my interview with Dani Shapiro on Superior Reads, November 24 at 7:00 pm and the 26th at 6:00 am on WTIP, 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at www.wtip.org.

Some books are hard to define, and Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is one of them – part thriller, mystery, love story, indigenous fiction, and cultural commentary, Firekeeper’s Daughter grabbed me by the throat and pulled me along at breakneck speed.

Daunis is stuck between cultures. Her father was an Ojibwe hockey player from Sugar Island whose career ended before it began after a tragic accident. Her mother is from one of Sault St. Marie’s most prominent families and her grandmother was less than thrilled by their relationship. Daunis herself was a high school hockey star, playing on the boy’s team. After graduation, she planned to go to Michigan State and pursue a medical career, but when her maternal grandmother suffered a stroke and lingered near death, Daunis decides to go to the local community college with her friend Lily. She isn’t heartbroken by the change of plans, after all, she’ll be able to hang out with her best friend – plus there’s a new hockey player in town, Jamie, who intrigues her. But as she gets to know Jamie, she begins to wonder if he is who he claims to be.

When several Anishinaabe teens have a hallucinogenic experience after taking meth, Daunis is recruited by the FBI. Daunis is smart, and with a foot in both the hockey world and the Anishinaabe community, she’s a useful tool for the FBI.

I listened to the audiobook version of Firekeeper’s Daughter and I’m so glad that I did. The cadence of the Anishinaabe elder’s speech, the pronunciation of many Anishinaabe words, and the propulsive action of the story made my time on the road fly by. I did not want the book to end. Boulley’s a master storyteller and she weaves in powerful cultural traditions and beliefs. I learned so much from this book – Boulley’s debut was billed as a young adult novel – but the breadth and depth of the novel make it a book for all ages.

Drury Lane Books, Cook County Library, and Cook County Higher Ed have partnered together to make Firekeeper’s Daughter the community read for September. There will be a potluck and discussion on September 29 at 5:30 pm at Cook County Higher Education. You still have time to read the book – or listen to the audiobook and join in the discussion.

This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of every month at 7:00 pm.

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