Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sunday's Child by Tom E. Lewis

Once upon a time, there was the United States Coast Guard and there was Life Saving Stations. In 1915, the two parties combined. One of those Life Saving Stations was manned by an all African American crew. Those guys went above and beyond the call of duty. The location was Pea Island. (North Carolina) This book is not specifically about any of those guys in particular, but loosely based on the circumstances. It is about an all African American crew and one girl, raised by the seven men.

Life Saving Station, Pea Island 1917

The cook got a girl pregnant. The girl died giving birth. The result is Sunday. Sunday grows up a tomboy, runs naked thru the waves, mans her own fishing boat, and has spunk to spare. She becomes a "healer" of sorts and a midwife. She makes both good and bad choices. I applauded when she shot a man in gonads to pay him back for raping her, but I shook my head in dismay when she began harboring German POW. This is during World War II, mind you... Also, this story takes place in the 1940s, not the early 1800s, I would think one would have been required to report the finding of two dead soldier's bodies...?

It's a good story full of characters readers won't quickly forget. I love the fact that this is little known piece of history. I never knew about these Life Saving guys till I found this book and I enjoyed the look at what their lives were like and the feats they accomplished. The World War II stuff with surprise submarines popping up and gold bars being burried is another bonus.

The only reason, I don't give this book a five is it felt rather rushed. Sometimes from one paragraph to another, three months would pass. This is one of those rare novels I think could have been longer and gave us even more detail about Sunday's thoughts and feelings and life.

Actual fact for those that are interested:

Captain Richard Etheridge became the first African-American to command a Life-Saving station when the Service appointed him as the keeper of the Pea Island Life-Saving Station in North Carolina in 1880. The Revenue Cutter Service officer who recommended his appointment, First Lieutenant Charles F. Shoemaker, noted that Etheridge was "one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina." Soon after Etheridge's appointment, the station burned down. Determined to execute his duties with expert commitment, Etheridge supervised the construction of a new station on the original site. He also developed rigorous lifesaving drills that enabled his crew to tackle all lifesaving tasks. His station earned the reputation of "one of the tautest on the Carolina Coast," with its keeper well-known as one of the most courageous and ingenious lifesavers in the Service.

The only all African American surf station crew in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1928. Reading left to right, they are: Chief Boatswain's Mate George E. Pruden, in charge; Cleon C. Tillett, B.M.1c.; Maxie M. Berry, Lonnie C. Gary [sic; Gray], Norphlet P. Meekins, John A. Mackey and Maloyd L. Scarborough." Photo published in the U. S. Coast Guard magazine, Volume 2, No. 2, December, 1928, p. 24.

This information and pictures were found on the following website and worth a look see:

Pea Island today is a wildlife refuge and due to hurricanes and land changing is no longer a separate island.

I bought this book on Amazon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Memoir: Kicking Up Dirt: A True Story of Determination, Deafness, and Daring by Ashley Fiolek and Caroline Ryder

Kicking Up Dirt: A True Story of Determination, Deafness, and Daring

There's a woman in motocross. She's only 5'2 but can handle a 250cc dirt bike, is the first woman to be on a factory team, and she's deaf. She's not even old enough to drink but is handed champagne in the victory's circle to poor on her team. Her name is Ashley Fiolek, pronounced "Fy-lek, not Fee-oh-lek."

Before she was three years of age, doctors branded her "mildly retarded" and "lazy" and said her parents should stop spoiling her. Well, this chick is far from stupid. She just couldn't hear. (She was born deaf possibly due to her mother coming in contact with the German measles while pregnant.) That didn't stop her from achieving her goal and her dreams to become a pro motocross racer.

Ashley chose to follow in her father and grandfather's motorcycle tracks. Both men were motocross racers themselves, Jim Fiolek and Jim Martin Fiolek. These men had Ashley on her own little 50cc bike before she could walk. Ashley took it to the next level and after the peewee races and Loretta's track, went pro, being named "rider of the year" in 2008, winning the 08 and 09 Women's Motocross Association Championships and the 2009 X games for her category. This chick finished the 2009 race with a broken collarbone!! She also is the first woman to get a factory sponsorship with Honda.

Her autobiography chronicles not only her life as a deaf rider and the hardships that accompany her handicap, but also talks about the unequal treatment and lack of perks for women riders in motocross and supercross. I never realized how hard a struggle it was for women to get into the sport and attain the same sponsorships and treatment.

Facts from the book: Kerry Klied was the first woman to ever hold an AMA Professional Racing License - which was confiscated at a race because the AMA rules did not actually allow for women pro racers. (Thus, the WMA was born in 2008)

Doreen Payne was the first woman to race against men in a stadium race. She had to enter competitions as D. Payne so that no one would know she was a girl or she would have been disqualified.

Marlee Matlin is quoted as saying, "Ashley Fiolek’s incredible story perfectly embodies the adage ‘the only thing that deaf people can’t do is hear." That is so true. I couldn't say it better. Ashley, herself, states, "Being deaf is fine by me, and it's never stopped me from riding aggressively, like the boys. That's why the inequality in my sport has always frustrated me. In America, men get paid more, they get more practice time on the track, they get the sponsorships, the press conferences, the TV time. But things are changing every year."

They are changing thanks to Ashley.
I want to note that I got a real kick out of reading about all the women motocross racers and their competitiveness against each other. Ashley goes tire to tire with Jessica Patterson often in this memoir and I could literally feel the adrenaline boost.

I'm eager to see what both women accomplish in 2010.
Ashley's website:

All pictures were found on the internet posted by either Honda or Carl Stone. The book, I bought on Amazon.

Dracula, My Love by Syrie James

Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker
Wow. This has been a fascinating retelling of the classic Dracula tale. It's told from Mina's POV and in this case, the first person narrative works wonderfully. The story begins with Mina visiting her dear friend Lucy while her fiance, Jonathon Harker is away on business in Transyvania. What Mina doesn't know is that Jonathon's business trip has taken a bad turn. After all, his client is none other than Count Dracula...

While Jonathon is suffering brain fever and consorting with lady vampires, Mina begins experiencing strange phenomenas herself. A strange ship has washed in on the beach nearby with an entirely dead crew, her friend Lucy begins sleepwalking, and Mina meets a handsome stranger that has swept her off her feet. His name is Mr. Wagner and he has enough charm to convince the ever proper, rule abiding Mina to sneak off for midnight pavilon dances.

Well, Lucy obtains mysterious bite marks on her neck and becomes seriously ill and as a result four men, one a doctor and one a professor, come into the picture. While they come to the realization that they have an "undead" among them and slowly begin to point their fingers at Count Dracula, Mina discovers what Jonathon has been going thru and rushes to his side. There's a quickie wedding and Mina forces her strong feelings for the mysterious Mr. Wagner to the side or tries to anyway..

I don't want to give away too much, but needless to say, Jonathon's frightening experiences in Translyvania and Mina's vacation frights go hand in hand. Mr. Wagner is none other than Count Dracula!

Jonathon and the four men, one of them Van Helsing, vow to track down Count Dracula and put him to death forever. Little do they know that Mina is actually in love with the Count and their romance continues behind Jonathon's back. Which side will Mina take in the end? The Count's or her husband's?

Mina has some major choices to make. Aide with the vampire hunt and watch the men murder the man she secretly loves and possibly lead them right to his door or believe and aide a blood drinking monster to escape and possibly lead the men into a trap. However, if she becomes a vampire herself, the choice is out of her hands... The only thing about this story I didn't like was how very inconsistent Mina is. About 60 percent into the tale, she began to get on my nerves. Dracula has an excuse for everything. He didn't kill so and so or do this... and she believes him. Then Van Helsing says Dracula is evil and did this and Mina believes him and declares she hates Dracula and so on.. She basically believes whatever anyone tells her. She also lies to save her own reputation and fabricates tales to save her own hide.. "I spun a terrible story, painting myself as the most innocent and persecuted of victims, and depicting Count Dracula as the monster they all expected, and which I finally knew him to be."

I bought this book from Amazon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Shooting Star: A Novel About Annie Oakley by Sheila Solomon Klass

Shooting Star: A Novel About Annie Oakley

This is a juvenile novel about the legendary Annie Oakley. It chronicles her childhood and early teen years from being born Phoebe Anne Moses to becoming Annie Oakley.

Pheobe is one of many of a Quaker family on the Ohio prairie. At the age of nine and shortly after her father's death, this spunky, stubborn girl picked up her father's rifle, cleaned it real good and shot a rabbit for dinner. Her mother was appalled. That is not ladylike behavior!

Nevertheless, Pheobe's disobedience regarding the rifle has nothing to do with her mother sending her to the "poor house." Pheobe's mother is broke and having lost not one, but two husbands, can't feed all her children so off Pheobe goes to the poor house to sew and help tend orphans. It's in this orphanage that Pheobe drops her hated first name and becomes Annie. It's also in this orphanage that Annie makes friends and enemies and has a life changing ordeal. She is sent to work for a man and woman who treat her cruelly. Annie vows never again to be without her rifle and a way of self defense.

Once she escapes the unhappy household or "wolf family" she once again takes up her dead pa's rifle and soon shooting turkeys for family dinner becomes shooting turkeys and other animals for profit to save her mother's farm. The novel ends with her meeting her future husband at a shooting competition.
That's my complaint. The story ends there. I was hoping for a little more and especially of her traveling with the Wild West Show.. I know this is a juvenile book, but I feel it could have been longer by at least a hundred pages and showed us more of Annie's famous life. The novel ended as the fun was really beginning so 4/5 stars.

This was a library book.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Where The Dog Star Never Glows by Tara L. Masih

This is a book of short stories and I'm going to use the term bittersweet to describe it because each story has some amount of sadness (bitter parts) in it, but with the sadness is also some joy (sweet parts). There's a story of a marriage on the rocks and the couple is taking one last trip together before they head separate ways.. a trip to see if they "still got it" so to speak. The story takes place in Dominica and the woman has a major revelation in a place called Champagne Springs.

How would you like to snorkel here?
There is a girl struggling to care for her schizophrenic mother and wondering if she will come down with the illness herself. There's a man who works as a caretaker and consorts with ghosts in a ghost town in Montana. (A personal favorite of mine. Found myself wishing that was a novel.) I was especially touched by a tale of an old man who chops down his own family picnic table for an excuse to talk to his neighbor about the loss of his daughter. I am not elaborating any more than that. There's also a tale of a young Indian girl being shunned by a white English woman in her own country, India. How must it feel to be ostracized in your own country? And I can't fail to mention the brief story about a boy going home after a hard day of mining. He dreads going home and for a very sad reason.

As with all short story books, there were the ones I loved and was touched by and there was also a few I didn't care for or simply had a hard time relating to the characters in them like The Dark Sun which is about a pregnant woman and Say Bridgette, Please which is really very disturbing so the book doesn't hit the 5 star mark, but the stories I enjoyed outnumber the ones I didn't like and the book is staying on my shelf so 4/5.

And I can't fail to mention the best story of all and I admit to some bias regarding this one. It takes place in Puerto Rico and and is about a young woman with a neck deformity who has possibly found true love. I'm biased because A. I love stories that take place in Puerto Rico and B. I love reading about handicapped women that rise above obstacles. Thus, this one was my favorite, but some of the stories I mention in my first paragraph are tied for second place.

The real bakery in Puerto Rico that inspired the story, Delight.

And for those that are interested, the author was kind of enough to provide a recipe to coconut kisses, besitos de coco, a candy that the Puerto Rican heroine makes in her shop.

2 cups grated fresh coconut
1 cup water
1-1 ½ cups turbinado sugar
Combine the coconut and water in a saucepan with a heavy
bottom. Bring to a boil. Add the sugar. Reduce heat to low
and cook for 30 mins. Stir occasionally or until mixture
becomes thick and sticky. Drop by tablespoons onto a greased
cookie sheet. Let cool completely. Optional: can drizzle with
chocolate or dip in melted chocolate. For a crispier kiss, bake
at 350 degrees for 10-15 mins. till golden brown around the edge
A short, bittersweet read and well worth it. Many of the stories will stay with you.

I received this book from the author who made it clear that no review was required or expected of me. I chose to post this because I WANTED to. My review is unbiased and honest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone by Martha Ackmann

Tho born as Marcenia Stone, by the time she was fourteen, this woman was known as Tomboy Stone. Why? She loved to run and play baseball. In the 1930s, this was unusual behavior for a girl. Her parents even frowned upon Tomboy's extracuricular activities. Tomboy was on the verge of running away from home when the local priest realized her potential and convinced her parents to allow her to play on the church baseball team. This was only the beginning...

As a young woman later in life, Tomboy armed herself with a 25 cent baseball glove from Goodwill and a pair of shoes that were a gift from Evard "Gabby" Street and after traveling for a while with a barnstorming team, she hit San Francisco and reinvented herself. Toni Stone was born. Toni Stone went from barnstorming teams to semi pro teams to the pro Negro League. She played on the SF Sea Lions, the New Orleans Creoles, and the Indianapolis Clowns and other teams. She propped open the door for other women to enter, women like Mamie Johnson and Connie Morgan.

Immersed with Toni's story is background information on what was going on in the Civil Rights movement at that time. It's important to remember that Toni Stone was not only in the fight for women's rights and equality, but also for African Amercian rights. During this time, lynching still occurred and hate ran rampant, especially in the "Jim Crow" south as they refer to it. And Toni's teams had to play ball in some of these places. Toni Stone had to straighten her shoulders, put her chin up, and while hitting, catching, and at one point even being knocked out by a ball, she had to face hateful white crowds and listen to insults hurled her way. Discrimination did not stop with racist or chauvinistic crowds tho. Toni also faced harassment from her own teammates and at one point, even had to take a baseball bat to fellow team member's head to stop his sexual remarks. This gal did not turn tail and head home to make her husband biscuits that's for sure.

Other African American baseball pioneers are honored in this book, including Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige.
Toni with Joe Louis

This is a very good read and more entertaining than most biographies. There was too much detail about other people tho, and not just people involved in baseball. Example: Louis Armstrong and the Zulu parade. I couldn't care less. Also, the book focuses on other baseball players quite often. Whereas I wasn't interested in some of these players, I think baseball fanatics will be overjoyed with the details. There were simply some parts that are more for "lovers of the game." This reader has no real interest in baseball, just strong women in history.

Toni Stone was involved with baseball in some way until she turned 65. She was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. She passed away in 1996.

I received this book from the publisher. I am not being reimbursed for my review. I just received a book that I requested upon discovering it on Shelf Awareness. The subject matter intrigued me enough that I HAD TO READ IT. So, thank you, Lawrence Hill Books.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park, A YA Novel With An Important Message

This was a quick, short, but enlightening read. It is aimed at the adolescent crowd and it is about the Second Sudanese Civil War in southern Sudan during the late 1980s thru late 90s.

Tho the story follows two characters in two different times, the main focus is on Salva Dut. In the beginning, Salva is an eleven year old boy in 1985 whose village is attacked. He is separated from his family and ends up wandering with a group of strangers. He is sometimes abandoned and left to fend for himself. For a brief period, he reunites with his uncle, but he is unable to find the rest of his family. The group is heading for a refugee camp in Ethiopia and on the way, they deal with nighttime lion attacks, spend two days making canoes to cross the Nile River, get attacked by bees and mosquitos, suffer extreme thirst in the Akobo desert, and meet up with a cruel gang of soldiers. Will Salva survive the trials of going from one camp to another? Will he find his family again? How can Salva help his country?

About a quarter of the book follows a young girl named Nya in southern Sudan, 2008. Her village is desperate for water. Some strange men appear and begin drilling a huge hole. Are they going to find water? And how does Salva's story fit with Nya's?

This is a novel based on a true story. Salva Dut really did go through this and become a "lost boy." I'm not going to explain that. You need to read the book. The book will be a very good story for young people and provide them with awareness of what is going on in Africa and what people over there need.

A link to Salva's organization:

I received a digital galley of this book thru

Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald

Veil of Roses
At the age of nine, Tamila Soroush donned a white hejab and participated in a religious ceremony in which religous men informed her that from that day on she could not run about freely, could not laugh too loudly, or play with any male not her brother. This is what happens to little girls in Iran. From that day on, women in Iran live hidden behind a veil. 

Tamila manages to barely escape a life of marriage (or prison, I should say.. same thing) to an Iranian man by getting a college education and becoming a teacher of young girls. When sending the nine year olds off to that above mentioned religious ceremony gets to be too much for Tamilia, tho, she finds herself unwed, unemployed, and living in her parents home at 27 years of age. So when she is presented with a ticket to America to visit her sister for three months, she jumps at the chance and sadly, but bravely leaves behind her parents and arrives in Arizona.

Has she gone from the frying pan into the fire tho? Tho Tamila tastes American style freedom, drinks coffee with men in the open, feels the sun on her face, takes pictures of whatever she wants, and attends an English class in which she makes some interesting friends, her freedom is still resticted. Her older sister is trying to find a Persian American man to marry Tamila before her visa expires. Tamila's options: A man who wants nothing to do with her and is already engaged to an American woman, a man with a very strange bug and cleanliness phobia, and a man who is gay but needs to please his parents. An non Persian American husband? Out of the question. Unfortuneately, as one Persian man after another is considered to wed Tamila, Tamila is falling in love with an American (non Perisan) man whom she met at the local Starbucks. Time is running out, her visa is about to expire, and if Tamila doesn't find the courage to attain what she wants, she is going back to Iran where she will once again, hide behind the veil.

Great story, had me completely hooked all night and day. There are some fabulous side stories too, involving an abused mail order bride and some of Tamila's quirky English class mates.

I got this book thru goodreads swap.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Infamous by Ace Atkins


The 1930s were a time of great depression and financial difficulties for average Americans. Thus, many farmers, blue collar workers, average joes turned to a life of crime. What began as little bank robberies to make ends meet turned into full scale felonies such as jail break outs and kidnappings for those that didn't know how to control their greed and quit while they were ahead. This book is about such people.

Meet George "Machine Gun" Kelly and his fiesty wife, Kathryn, a real life husband and wife kidnapping team. This historical novel tells of their rocky marriage and the crimes they committed together, their running from the law, and their downfall. Was George really the mastermind behind their wild schemes or was it his cigarette smoking, cursing beauty of a wife, Kathryn?

The book introduces readers to this felon committing couple as they are preparing to commit one of the most famous crimes of 1933, the kidnapping of Oklahoma oil tycoon, Charles Urschel.

George and Kathryn with the aide of Kathyrn's farming family pull off what at the time was the biggest kidnapping and ransom scheme of the century. They walk off with 200,000 bucks. They got the law on their tail tho, a Federal posse including Agent Gus T. Jones and a young Bruce Colvin. The book goes back and forth following the Kelly's, the Federal posse investigation, and what just may be their downfall: two other gangsters that don't know how to mind their own business and aim to get some of the Kelly's new wealth, Harvey Bailey and Verne Miller.

A good and exciting read full of crime, jail breakouts, and corruption. Those who enjoyed the recent Johnny Depp movie, Public Enemies will love it. I had a few issues, however. Issue 1. Too many characters to keep track of at times. I almost had to write them down. Issue 2: I realize this book takes place in the 1930s and that people were quite racist then and whereas I can understand the use of the "n" word when people are speaking to maintain historical accuracy and setting, I don't see its purpose in being used when just referring to a trumpet player or valet in the descriptions. I didn't like the causual usuage of this word at all and it grated on me. Issue 3: Tho important to the outcome of the story, I didn't have any interest in and therefore grew very bored with Harvey Bailey's parts. I think about a hundred pages could have been eliminated and the tale could have focused solely on the Kellys. I also didn't care about the budding romance between Colvin and Betty or Jones and Doc's past history as lawmen.

Thus, it doesn't quite hit the 5 or even 4 star mark, but it almost did. It's been rounded off to 3.5.

I had a fabulous laugh out loud moment when Kathryn is speaking to her friend Lousie and says, "You know, you can train a man just like you train a dog? Only instead of biscuits, you use your snatch." My, oh my. I almost feel sorry for George Kelly. Sounds like she had him right where she wanted him. LOL
Fun Fact: George "Machine Gun" Kelly spend over 20 years in Alcatraz. While there, his name became "Pop Gun Kelly." Apparently he wasn't really as bad as he claimed to be or as Kathryn claimed him to be.

Say, does anyone else see a resemblence between these fellows? Add about ten pounds and a fedora to the fine fellow on the right and you gotta very close resemblence! Cool!

I bought this arc on ebay. Some of the quotations may have been changed in the final copy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Stars of the Sky, Legends All by Ann Lewis Cooper, ill by Sharon Rajnus

On a recent trip to one of my favorite places to go, the aircraft museum, I found this book in the gift shop. The cover pretty much sums it up so well, (Illustrated histories of women aviation pioneers) there is no need for me to summarize it. Instead, I am going to take this opportunity to post some of my favorite tidbits of information and my favorite women aviatiors in this book. I'm sure a lot of you will find these women as fascinating and amazing as I have.

First up for a shout out from me is Gerladine Mock.

She succeeded where Amelia Earhart failed and became the very first woman to fly solo around the world and cross both major oceans. This amazing feat was accomplished in 1964, 26 years after Amelia and Fred diappeared.
The second lady aviation pioneer to grab my attention in this book is Willa Beatrice Brown.

Willa was the first black woman to be an officer in the Civil Air Partrol, co founder of the National Airmen's Association of America, and the co owner of the Coffey School of Aeronautics where she was a flight instructor. In a time in which flight schools were predominantly white, Willa lobbied tirelessly to give African Americans the aviation opportunities they deserved and desired. Many of her graduates became participants in the Tuskegee Experiement and this led to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen was an all African American unit.
Another African American woman of note that overcame numerous odds and bigotry: Janet Harmon Bragg.
She was the first black woman pilot to earn a Commercial Certificate. With the outbreak of World War II, Janet applied to the WASP but upon showing up for her interview, her application was declined because of the color of her skin. This was a sad say for African American women everywhere and the WASP lost many a good woman pilot due to this bigotry. This amazing woman, however, did not let this setback deter her and turned around and offered her skills as a nurse. When this attempt was also barred, Janet fought and fly until obtaining her commercial pilot's license, a major accomplishment for both women and African Americans. She very well may also have been the first black woman in the nation to purchase an aircraft.
Also of note, and not for her flying skills, but for her generous funding and support of the early aviation industry: Mabel Hubbard Bell, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell.
This woman was deaf and unable to use her husband's invention of the telephone, but she refused to be handicapped. She suggested and funded the Aerial Experiment Association and her generosity helped the Silver Dart take flight in 1909. This was the first flight by a British subject of a heavier than air, powered, controlled aircraft in Canada. The saddest thing is that Mable was unable to hear the passing aircraft she helped to create.
Commander Trish Bechman was the first woman to qualify as a naval flight officer in the F-15E and the F/A-18D.
She fought a two year battle for the right to fly in the above mentioned aircraft, a battle she finally won in 1992. Thanks her, women could officially begin training in combat aircraft in 1993.

And the last woman I want to give a huge thumbs up to is Major Nicole Malachowski, a terrific role model for young girls today.
Nicole was the first woman pilot selected to fly with the elite Air Force Thunderbirds in 2006. No other woman before her has ever flown with a military demonstration team, but thanks to Nicole, the door is now open. I also want to note that she flies the amazing, powerful, and at the moment in my personal opinion, the greatest aircraft in military service, the F-16 Fighting Falcon. (I very well may have at some point, repaired one her wings so I admit to some bias here...)

And I gotta end this on a bit of a negative note... a MAJOR THUMBS DOWN....

to Milo Burcham who said, "Women have no place in aviation." Hmph. Is that right? Well, Mr. Burcham, I think we have proved you wrong.