Monday, September 22, 2014

AN INVISIBLE THREAD by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski



Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, An Invisible Thread: The True story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny (New York: Howard Books; division of Simon and Schuster, 2011).

Also available for Kindle and Nook and as an audiobook.


(Non-fiction)

Recommended by Wilda Morris

In May, 2014, I attended a Road Scholar workshop entitled, “Exploring the Writer in You” at Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin. The focus for the 2014 event was “The Road Taken.” We were encouraged to write memoir, which could take the form of creative non-fiction, poetry, or even—if we wanted to stray over the line into fiction—short story.

The following Sunday, Pastor Linda Tossey quoted a short section of An Invisible Thread in her sermon. After the worship service, I asked her how to spell the author’s name. She offered to loan me the book. I said, “Not now. I really don’t have time to read it.” She assured me that she wouldn’t need it back soon, so I went ahead and borrowed it, thinking it would sit on a pile for a while.

I made the “mistake” of opening the book to read a few pages while my husband drove us home from church. Before I got out of the car, I was hooked. I squeezed in a few minutes of reading time here and there, went to bed late a couple of nights because I didn’t want to put it down, and soon finished the book.

One day in the 1980s, Laura Schroff walked past a panhandler who was asking for change on a Brooklyn corner. Panhandlers were just part of the background in Metropolitan New York so it was easy for a successful advertising executive to walk on by and not even see or hear a homeless man asking for money. Out of the corner of her eye, though, Laura had noticed that this panhandler was young. She stopped in the middle of the intersection, turned around and went back. He stretched out his hand again, saying, “Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.” Acting on an impulse that surprised both of them, she told the boy she would take him to McDonald’s and buy him lunch. She said he could have whatever he wanted to eat there and asked him if it was okay if she ate with him. He agreed. Thus began a long-time relationship

Maurice was growing up in a violent, drug- and alcohol-infested world. His mother was addicted to heroin. Virtually all his neighbors and relatives were addicted to something. It was a scary and unpredictable world. Maurice could come and go as he pleased; no one asked where he was going or why. When his mother wasn’t in jail, she sold drugs to put food on the table. His grandmother tried to provide some modicum of stability for him and for his sisters, but the family kept having to move from one derelict apartment to another. Sometimes there was more safety and stability for Maurice on the streets than at home.

Laura grew up with an alcoholic father who abused his wife and children, especially Laura’s brother Frank. When he was sober, he was a wonderful father, but most of the time he was drunk. Laura’s mother tried to protect her children, but the one time she took her children and went back to her parents’ home, her mother told her she had to go back. This background, and the fact that she had struggled for a time in school gave her empathy with Maurice.

I won’t give away the arc of the story, the ups and downs of the relationship, the interweaving of Laura’s memories with Maurice’s story, or the many ways in which their friendship profoundly impacted both Laura and Maurice.

The book is highly readable. It hooked me within a few pages and kept me reading. I strongly recommend it!

A portion of the royalties for this book are donated to No Kid Hungry. Check out the website connected to this book (http://www.aninvisiblethread.com/), and click on the link to see Laura Schroff on the Today Show.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

LONE SURVIVOR by Marcus Luttrell




Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 (Little, Brown and Company, 2007).



Also available on Kindle and Nook and Audio CD.



(NON-FICTION)

Reviewed by Kevin A. Penrod, Jr.

            Lone Survivor is by far the best book I have ever read. And people who know me know that says a lot considering the number of books I read. You might know this title due to the film adaptation that was released earlier this year. I have now read the book twice front to back, and seen the movie.
            Lone Survivor is the eyewitness account from Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell of operation Redwing and his friends of SEAL Team 10 that gave their lives to save his. This book gives an amazing insight into the training, endurance, and dedication it takes to be a Navy SEAL. During a mission to take out a Taliban leader, Marcus Luttrell and his team of 3 other brave men were discovered in the hills of Afghanistan by some goat herders, one of whom was a kid. After some debate they decided so as to not face the media firestorm back home to let them go. Soon after that, the Taliban leader they were sent to take out sent an entire army up into the hills to kill them. After a long gunfight follows, the SEALS slid down the side of a cliff twice and were shot numerous times (one of the SEALs was shot 10 times before going down). Marcuss' best friend went out onto an open ridge to call for help knowing it meant the end of his own life. Marcuss was the last one left alive.
            This book, in my opinion, should be required reading in schools. It is the ultimate testament to the brave men and women who fight for this country. I don't recommend it to younger readers or those faint of heart. No manly games during the movie and both times I read the book I cried like a baby. It is a fantastic book. I highly recommend it. If for no other reason read this book to know the story and to honor the brave men who lost their lives in those mountains, men such as:
                        Petty Officer Matthew Axelson
                        Lieutenant Michael Murphy
                        Petty Officer Danny Dietz
                        Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen
                        Chief Petty Officer Dan Healy
                        Shane Patton
                        Petty Officer First Class Jeff Taylor
            We will never forget these American heroes or the major lesson of this story. Never forget and never quit. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

THE THEFT OF THE VIRGIN by John Scherber



THE THEFT OF THE VIRGIN by John Scherber

John Scherber, The Theft of the Virgin (San Miguel Allende Books, 2012).

Also available on Kindle.





(MYSTERY)

Reviewed by Wilda Morris

When I visit a city, especially outside the US, I enjoy reading novels set in that location. In the shop of the Biblioteca in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico (the library with the second largest collection of books in English in all of Mexico), I found a series of mysteries set in that fascinating city. I should have selected the first in the series of Paul Zacher mysteries, Twenty Centavos, but The Theft of the Virgin, the ninth one, was a bit lighter, and I had already purchased several books (i.e., my suitcase was getting heavy!). As with most such series, later books give away some things that happened in earlier books.

I was in San Miguel de Allende (SMA) to attend The San Miguel Poetry Week (http://www.sanmiguelpoetry.com/) and to enjoy the many delights of the old colonial city and its environs, so I read only the first few pages while I was there. I finished the rest on the flight back to Illinois. The main characters in the series are Paul Zacher, Maya Sanchez, and Cody Williams. Paul is an American expat living in SMA. Like many expats there, Paul is an artist, or more specifically, a painter. In Twenty Centavos, he got pulled into the investigation of the murder of an antique dealer, and he has been investigating crimes ever since. His Mexican girlfriend, Maya Sanchez, has become the manager of the Paul Zacher Detective Agency. She is beautiful and witty. She unhappy when Paul gets her into dangerous situations although she is very good at dealing with them. Cody is another American expat, a retired detective. The characters three-dimensional and interesting.

Much of the story takes place in SMA, where who knows what (or who) lurks behind the omnipresent high privacy walls. Dr. Bernard Glass heads the Vergruen Reference Collection, a collection of fakes of paintings by the old masters. Glass exhibits his collection (or parts of it) in various cities around the world and makes presentations on how to recognize forgeries. When the exhibit of fakes comes to Belles Artes in San Miguel, Paul is astonished to discover that the Georges de la Tour painting titled St. Jerome is the genuine article, not a fake at all. He goes to Texas to inform Dr. Glass, only to discover he is a man who taught art history (under a different name) at Miami University in Ohio when Paul was a student there. Dr. Glass dismisses him out of hand. Paul is quite certain the painting is genuine because it is one he studied deeply and copied during his student years.

Paul goes to the Minneapolis Academy of Art where he meets with the executive assistant to the director, to inform her that the Academy is showing a forgery, while the real painting by de la Tour is being shown in an exhibit of fakes. A break-in at Belles Artes results in the disappearance of the painting and—this being a mystery—a murder. To find out what happens next, you will have to read this fast-paced book.

Scherber works in details of the history of Mexico (especially SMA), descriptions of parts of the city, and art history. Far from slowing down the story, these details enliven it. I plan to read more of the series, starting with Twenty Centavos.