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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stalking Los Angeles by Tom Berquist

This is another review of a book that I purchased on Amazon and reviewed for Bookplex.  I decided to review it because the author, Tom Berquist, believes in the preservation of wildlife.  I have reviewed several YA books dealing with this theme.  Until now, my favorite of these was Rhinoceros Summer by Jamie Thornton which I reviewed on Book Babe here.  I still like Rhinoceros Summer very much. It's well-written.  Yet I prefer Stalking Los Angeles.  Read my review to find out why.

                                       

                                    



The YA novel Stalking Los Angeles by Tom Berquist alternates between the viewpoint of Reggie Youngblood, a Native American youth, and a mountain lion growing up in the hills around Santa Monica. It was wonderful to have these glimpses into the mind of an animal. Tom Berquist’s perspective as a wildlife advocate informs the narrative.  It was fascinating to see the human boy and the young lion pass through similar stages of development. 

Another significant theme in this book is Native American identity.   Reggie attempts to follow a Native spiritual practice on his own in absence of a community.  His father had decided in favor of integration with Euro-American society.    While a vision quest has traditionally involved isolation, it was normally interpreted with the guidance of an elder.  Reggie had no Native elder to assist him.  This aspect of the novel demonstrates that a successful adolescent rite of passage may require some direction from an adult.

Wildlife expert Joe Sartor does provide Reggie with a professional role model.  Reggie’s bond with Joe is a positive influence on his life especially as compared to his ambivalent relationship with his PTSD and alcohol ravaged father.  Berquist realistically shows that recovery from PTSD is a long process that can involve setbacks. 

I was heartened by this book’s resolution.  Since the preservation of endangered species like the California mountain lion is important to me, I was glad to see Joe Sartor and Reggie Youngblood involved in this cause.  Despite human encroachment on the mountain lion’s habitat, Stalking Los Angeles offered some hope that humans and lions might be able to co-exist. 

So this is a book with great characterization and important themes realistically developed which ends on an optimistic note.  I recommend it highly to both adult and YA readers.

                                     




                                 



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain: 18th Century China Mystery and Giveaway

I like historical mysteries, but I'm particularly attracted to historical mysteries that take place in locations that aren't normally utilized, periods that rarely appear in historical mysteries or both.  I've read a great many historical mysteries taking place in Japan, but very few taking place in China.  I also have read no fiction at all set in 18th century China.  So Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart is a rare bird indeed.  This library student was also delighted that Hart's protagonist is a librarian and astonished that this is her first novel.

This review is also a milestone for this blog since it's my first giveaway!  I am giving away a hardcover copy of Jade Dragon Mountain.  All you need to do to enter the giveaway is comment on this review, or tell me what interests you in the book.  You don't have to post your e-mail here if you're uncomfortable with doing that, but I do need to be able to contact you if you win.  So make sure that when I click on your name, I find a profile with an e-mail link.  You can enter this giveaway until November 10th.

                                           

It turned out that what I liked best about Jade Dragon Mountain was Hamza the storyteller.  I found him very intriguing.  I still want to know a great deal more about him.  Hamza becomes a friend of the protagonist, Li Du.   He is intelligent but can be enigmatic when he offers advice in the form of a story.

As expected, I also loved the role of libraries in this book.   There is a library in which the books are shelved according to the Chinese constellations.  There is a hidden library that represents the remains of a devastated collection.  There is the Imperial Library in Li Du's past and possibly another library in his future.

The mystery of the murdered Jesuit involves political and economic conflicts. The suspects are numerous.  There are a variety of Chinese and Western interests competing for power and influence. There is also an herbal dimension to the case. I'd never previously heard of a few of the Chinese herbs mentioned.  It was  a suspenseful narrative.  Li Du has a strict time limit for solving the murder. I was continually absorbed by every new plot twist.  The resolution of the case wasn't completely unexpected, but the ending of the book was a total surprise.  I am looking forward to Elsa Hart's next novel.

The giveaway is now over.  Congratulations to the winner, Cassandra!  

                                 
 



                                        

                                        

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sophomore Campaign: A Historical Novel Dealing With Prejudice in Baseball



Before 2015 I read no baseball novels at all.  This year I have read two of them.  The first was The Lost Tribe which I reviewed here.  It's different because it's alternate history and contains a paranormal element.  Sophomore Campaign is different because it's the second book in a series that focuses on autistic pitcher, Mickey Tussler.  I decided to purchase it on Amazon and review it for The Bookplex because I am interested in the portrayal of autistic characters. 

 I didn’t read the first book in this series, The Legend of Mickey Tussler.  This means that I didn’t start with the background on the characters and their relationships, but I eventually got up to speed.   So I’d say that this book can stand on its own.

                                      


I thought that Sophomore Campaign had a cover similar to The Lost Tribe.   When I looked at them side by side, I realized that they were literally like night and day.  The other novel’s cover showed a baseball on the field under a night sky.  Sophomore Campaign also depicted the baseball on the field, but it was sunlit.  I think that these covers reflect the atmosphere of each book.  Setbacks occur in Sophomore Campaign and the concerns that the novel deals with are serious ones, but they seem surmountable.

The optimism of the viewpoint character, team manager Arthur Murphy, occasionally falters.  Yet when his players are beset by prejudice, his support is rock solid.   Murphy, known as Murph, is a likable character.  He is forward looking while at the same time cherishing traditional values like loyalty and integrity. 

Although author Frank Nappi mainly writes serviceable straightforward prose, sometimes his style really shines.  There are occasional poetic passages that impressed me.  I had to jot one of them down in my book journal because it was just outstanding.

I consider Sophomore Campaign an inspiring story that confronts racism boldly through baseball.  This book shows how baseball mirrors the surrounding society.  It reflects an American culture that is slowly beginning to change, and the courage it took to implement such a transformation.

                           

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dancing In Your Bubble by Teri J. Dluznieski

When I requested Teri J. Dluznieski's novel, Cafe of the Hungry Ghosts (which I reviewed recently here ), I said that I was interested in the shamanism aspect.  She then generously offered to send me her non-fiction shamanism book, Dancing In Your Bubble. It's based in the same Andean culture as the novel.  It can be read as a companion book for the novel for those interested in finding out more.

                               
                                             

  Dancing In Your Bubble is not a memoir of Dluznieski's experiences with Andean shamanism.   It's a guide for shamanistic development combined with a psychological self-help book.

 A number of the exercises included within the book are psychologically focused.   I recognized the use of re-framing from NLP (Neuro -Linguistic Programming).    It's possible to take a non-spiritual approach to this book and use the psychology aspect for personal growth.  It addresses problems that anyone might have, not just those who are interested in pursuing shamanism.

I think that the reason why Dluznieski integrated psychology with her approach to shamanistic training is because many people who aspire to become shamanistic healers are broken in some way.  They need to mend themselves before they can heal others.

I liked this book's outlook on trauma which is called hucha.   Dluznieski tells us that the Andean approach to hucha is to re-frame it as something that strengthens you.  Acknowledge the trauma, but don't dwell on it for the rest of your life.  You will be trapped in that stage and will be unable to progress.  Dluznieski compares it to putting fertilizer on a weed.  The weed will flourish at the expense of any other seeds that you may try to plant.  In Andean healing, you go through a process of cleansing from hucha, so you can recover and move on.  

Some readers might wonder why Dluznieski was drawn to Andes shamanism.  The issue of cultural appropriation rears its head.  Someone like me who is genuinely curious about all spiritual practices and takes a multi-cultural approach, might be turned to stone by the fear of cultural appropriation.  Some would say that since I was brought up Jewish, I should confine myself to that spiritual path. Yet I feel that in this conflict ridden world, there is a strong need for inter-cultural understanding.  I have also always believed that if someone is drawn to a path that is unrelated to his or her genetic heritage, it should be explored.  Perhaps there is a past life connection with that path.  Maybe that is the case with Dluznieski.

 To avoid accusations of cultural appropriation,  it is important to be sincere and respectful toward traditional native practitioners.  Readers should not pick up Dancing In Your Bubble, do the exercises and then call themselves traditional Andean shamans.  As I have indicated, the book fuses modern and traditional elements.   If you want to be authentic about your own practices, you will acknowledge eclecticism.  If you are genuinely connected to spirit, you will receive your own new revelations.  Be true to yourself.  There is no need to borrow a false sense of legitimacy by laying claim to a title that isn't yours.

I thought that there were some useful insights in Dancing in Your Bubble.  I adopt what I find useful by integrating it with what I have previously learned, and making it my own so that it's relevant to me.  No two people will have the exact same responses to the exercises in this book.  If Dancing in Your Bubble helps you to define yourself, then it should be considered a success.

                                       


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Teaching What Really Happened by James W. Loewen

James W. Loewen is not a historian, but he is definitely a college level educator.  When he discovered that his students had extremely inaccurate ideas about U.S. history, he investigated high school social studies and history classes to discover how and why his students acquired such ideas.  Then he gave some thought to how high school teachers could remedy the situation.  He has written a number of books on the subject that have become influential in the field.  I only recently encountered them on Goodreads.  The one that I just read is Teaching What Really Happened.

                                         


As the cover indicates, textbooks are one of the barriers to genuine learning about history.   Textbook publishers don't want to offend school boards.  In some cases, this means that textbook writers must avoid telling the truth about historical events and historical personages. Christopher Columbus, slavery, the Civil War, Native Americans,immigration, the Great Depression, Japanese American internment, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement have been among the most sensitive topics for high school history textbooks.

Loewen  discusses why these topics are so sensitive.  He points to systemic racism and the belief in American exceptionalism as root causes for textbook inaccuracies.  

Unfortunately, policies such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core have emphasized standardized testing based on these flawed textbooks.  This discourages teachers from developing creative solutions to this problem.  Americans really need to oust these failed policies and come up with a new consensus about education. Loewen doesn't have to deal with current K-12 educational standards, so he is free to propose alternatives.   


One technique that Loewen suggested was textbook critique.   Comparing passages in different textbooks on the same topic and discussing their adequacy is one approach.  He also encouraged students to do research to prove that their textbooks weren't telling the truth.   I imagine that if teachers gave students extra credit for showing how textbooks are wrong, this could be a very popular assignment.

Sometimes omissions are a textbook issue. Loewen mentions that high school history textbooks didn't include the fact that in the 18th century Wall Street was where slave owners  went to sell the labor of their slaves, and others hired their labor.  Since I lived in New York when I was in high school, learning this aspect of the history of Wall Street would have been a way for me to understand how slavery was integrated into urban New York society.  Like most high school students, I thought at the time that slavery was something that happened on Southern plantations.  I didn't know about slavery in New York.

Another revelation about Wall Street is that the wall that was built to defend the colony at that location was erected after the supposed purchase of Manhattan Island for $24.   Loewen argued that if they were still being attacked by the former residents, it isn't likely that Manhattan was sold for $24 or any other price.  The commemorative plaque is bizarre.  The Dutch purchaser is dressed for winter and the Native American was hardly dressed.  He was also wearing a Plains headdress which was not traditional for the locals.  Draw your own conclusions.

This was only one example of  historical event markers that are either inaccurate in their portrayal of the event, or commemorate an event that didn't take place at all.  Loewen made this the primary subject of his book Lies Across America which I'll definitely want to read.

Another example was a marker at Almo, Idaho commemorating a massacre supposedly committed by Native Americans that apparently never took place.  Loewen researched it and was unable to find any evidence that it ever happened.  He commented that the description on the marker employs the false stereotype of  Indians "circling the wagons" in wagon trains on their way West.  This never happened in reality.  Loewen supports the view that the origin of "circling the wagons" came from Wild Bill Hickock's Wild West show where the performers portraying the attackers had to circle because the performances took place in circus rings.  The Wild West shows influenced people's perception of history.

I found this information fascinating because I recently read and reviewed From A High Tower, a novel by Mercedes Lackey. A central plot sequence in this book involved a 19th century American Wild West show touring Germany. The tour had to change its portrayal of Native Americans because Germans had been influenced by the novels of  bestselling German writer, Karl May.  Neither the original perception of Native Americans in the Wild West show nor the fictional portrayal of Karl May can be said to be accurate.  This illustrates that if we want to know what really happened, we may need to strip away more than one layer of falsification.

I was surprised to learn that one of the historical lies that continues to be perpetuated today is that medieval people believed that the earth is flat.  They actually didn't.  In Loewen's presentation on Columbus, which was later published as a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus, he included a photo of  a globe displaying a map of the world which dates back to 1492.  Columbus supposedly returned with the evidence that the world was round in 1493.  Since at least one globe already existed, I don't suppose it was much of a revelation.

After reading this book, I'm willing to declare myself a fan of James W. Loewen.  It may be difficult to uncover historical truth in some cases, but I applaud Loewen for prioritizing it and showing the importance of historical truth for all of us.