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A Dose of Reality and Some Frivolity

By Gini Rainey

“The Slave Across the Street “

By Theresa Flores

This is a must-read book for anyone who still believes human trafficking and slavery is something that is experienced only in third world countries.  In this poignant and heartbreaking story, the author tells of her own experience as a not so typical 15 year old in Detroit, Michigan.  The daughter of an upper middle class family, who was on the cusp of slaveadulthood, Theresa found herself drawn into an impossible situation.  Her story, although very difficult to believe, is undeniably true and painful, and Theresa now spends her energy  bringing light to this unspeakable crime against our innocents.

When Theresa was not quite sixteen years old and was trying to fit in at a new school, she found herself attracted to a handsome, exotic young man from another culture.  Unwittingly, she was tricked into submitting herself to unspeakable horrors in order to protect her family from embarrassment and physical danger. For two years, she was raped, beaten and abused, drugged and sleep-deprived–all along trying to carry on the “normal” life of a teenaged schoolgirl in a well-to-do neighborhood.

As difficult as it is to believe that this sort of thing could be happening right under our noses without us realizing it, tragically it does.  So many of us are so busy being busy, we don’t take the time to keep a watchful eye out for those who need it most.  Fortunately for Flores, she found her own way to escape from this slavery and managed to survive her ordeal without a pregnancy, VD, addiction, or death that typically occurs among similar victims.  It wasn’t until much later that she was able to come to grips with her past and became determined to tell her story, in hopes that others would not suffer a similar fate.

Theresa, now a social worker, provides a cautionary story for young girls who might fall into a similar trap and think there’s no way out. Her expertise as a social worker lends even more credibility to her addendum at the end of the book that gives parents and youth workers an idea of when something like this might be going on and how to help.  And, because this book is geared more towards the adult audience, it also provides  a cautionary reminder for the parents of young girls who are more involved in their careers and activities than in the lives of their children.

Copyright 2010 – Ampelon Publishing

4 out of 5

 

“Great Kitchens of the Midwest: A Novel”

By J. Ryan Stradal

This first book for Stradal, who was born and raised in Minnesota, is a New York Times Best Seller and also a winner of the 2014 Best Novel award in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.  Being from the Midwest, I probably was drawn to this book because of the quirkiness of the title, but the characters and their even quirkier lives kept me reading to the end.  The main character of the book is a woman named Eva, the daughter of Lars kitchenThorvald and his wife, Cynthia.  When Eva is first introduced, she is just a baby and lives with her parents in Minnesota. Although her father, Lars, had no special training and came from a working class family, he had a special gift; he can discern various tastes and flavors from foods and loves to cook. Lars adores his daughter, but his wife Cynthia realizes too late that she doesn’t want to be a mother and would rather be a sommelier. The chapter ends and important decisions have been made about young Eva’s life and care.

This book is about food, family, and maturing into the life you were born to live, sometimes without really knowing why.  It was possibly inevitable that the daughter of an up-and-coming Minneapolis chef and a sommelier-in-training would grow up to have a refined palate and a passion for good food and wine, but Eva Thorvald largely had to come to this place without the direct aid of her parents.

The title of the book alludes to the places Eva lives and works: primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Each chapter of this book focuses on a particular food and its importance in Eva’s life, which unfolds from infancy to her mid-thirties. While she is never encouraged by her surrogate parents to pursue a culinary career, Eva naturally gravitates to this world and eventually becomes a well-known, world-class chef. The book culminates by drawing together many of the significant people in her life to serve a meal that incorporates all the foods from the previous chapters. In Eva’s words it is “her greatest dinner of all time” and it tells “her life story through the ingredients in this meal.”

Foodies will enjoy the backdrop of Eva’s life story, and I believe everyone will be drawn into the subtle wit woven throughout the story as the diverse characters wander in and out of Eva’s life. Or is it the Eva wanders in and out of their lives? While not all the characters are likable, they are all engaging and make significant contributions through their attributes and/or foibles.

Copyright 2015 – Pamela Dorman Books

4 out of 5

 

“Loss: A Novella”

By Glenn R. Krisch

If you are interested in a good, quick read, you might want to try this one.  Krisch explores the loss of Angie’s husband due to a car accident.  There is an apparent honesty about in how Krisch portrays Angie’s character during her time of suffering following the accident.  Instead of being a romantic, swooning with loss, but courageous and plucky to the end, Angie is seen as a decidedly messier and more plausible heroine.  By the end of the novella, you won’t even be certain if lossAngie reaches any stage of a real recovery.

If there weren’t already some small details towards the start of the novella that gave the story an air of mystery, you might be lured into a sense that the widow’s suffering was the only purpose of the book.  Even then, that wouldn’t have been a bad thing because of Krisch’s ability to build characters that are both believable and likeable.  However, without having to issue a spoiler alert, the back stories that are told help to make sense of the characters and the actions that are involved.

I think an author like Krisch is able to write about the darkness that surrounds sorrow and grief because he understands reality and is not afraid to write about it. He keeps his readers on a non-sugar diet that could be considered to be our health in the long run. Even when writing fiction, he abstains from wish fulfilment and gives his readers characters who sometimes find redemption and sometimes don’t, who sometimes find justice and sometimes don’t and who are never one dimensional. “Loss” is a solid novella that completes its own story at just the right pace allowing us a ringside seat to someone’s suffering and loss while intriguing us with a mystery finally revealed.

Copyright 2012 – Stray King Publishing

4 out of 5

Books

BOOK REVIEW: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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By Gini Rainey

Imagine, if you will, a shack in the middle of the backwater marshes of the Atlantic Ocean in North Carolina.  The setting is as raw as the story that Owens tells about the abandonment and coming-of-age of young Kya.

Left behind by her entire family at the age of six, Kya learns more about life and survival in a short time than most people learn in a lifetime.

Ms. Owens’, no stranger to the publishing community having several books in print, paints a world full of wonder and discovery as Kya explores the beauty of nature around her as she struggles to stay alive.

Living on the edge of a community that neither helps her nor understands her, she grows into a beautiful, highly intelligent young woman with the help of a young boy who was a friend of her brothers.

Expertly building characters you will come to either love or despise, Ms. Owens laces Where the Crawdads Sing with a hint of physical abuse, romance, and murder.

Owens has created a book that has everything necessary to keep the reader turning the pages to the surprise ending.

5 of 5 – Copyright 2018 – G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Books

Book Review: “The Orphan’s Tale” by Pam Jenoff

“The Orphan’s Tale” by Pam Jenoff

by Gini Rainey

Note to Self: when times are different and strangely sad, as the Shelter In Place time for COVID-19 has been, it’s not very smart to read a book that is filled with sadness and desperation.  That’s how I felt while reading this book.  While it was a very interesting and well-written book, I found I could only manage a chapter or two at a time.  It wasn’t until I was well into it that I realized that it was not necessarily the isolation from SIP that was depressing me, but rather, it was quite possibly a combination of COVID and this book.

Set against the backdrop of a small traveling circus in western Europe during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale is rich with all the pain and angst you might imagine from that time.  While going back and forth between the perspectives of Astrid, the Jewish star trapeze artist who had been married to a Nazi officer, and her apprentice Noa, a Dutch girl who was turned out of her home when she became pregnant with the baby of a German soldier, Jenoff weaves a gritty tale so intriguing and earthy that you will be able to hear the cries of the baby and smell the sawdust of the Big Top.

Jenoff manages to, not only touch on the character’s intensity of feelings but also to touch parts of my mind and soul that I found myself completely absorbed by their feelings, too.  This is definitely a book well worth the read.

5 of 5 – Copyright 2017 – MIRA Books

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When Spirits Run Wild

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By Gini Rainey

We are now into the ninth day of our Stay-At-Home Order and it doesn’t get any easier, folks. One thing I’ve determined though is that our house isn’t haunted, which is different from my business’s office, located in a 1945-vintage, one-time fire station for the city of Tyler. The previous owner, my former boss, bought the building in 1985 and renovated it, turning it into a car dealership. Unfortunately, the ghost didn’t get the memo. 

That boss, Jim, is an avid collector of all things baseball and fireman/fire station related and the office was pretty much a mini-museum with a ton of collectible of battery-operated trucks and cars. It wasn’t unusual for a lot of them to become activated on their own and that’s not even talking about the things that would go bump in the night. I can hear you skeptics out there right now shaking your heads and saying “no way!” But there came that day when we couldn’t take it anymore and went through all of the offices and removed all the batteries from all of the toys.  Guess what? Those ghosts didn’t need no stinking batteries! The sirens kept on going off! 

All of that changed – or so we thought – when my business partner and I bought the dealership from Jim and Jim and all of the toys moved out. Things were nice and quiet for a while until we noticed that the ceiling fan/light in Jim’s old office would turn on and off at will. We would notice it on – fan blowing full bore – turn it off – leave the room and come back later and it would be back on again.  Interesting folks, those dead firemen, so we just learned to live with them. But I was just thinking, ever since my business partner got a dog and started bringing him to work with him, the strange stuff has stopped happening. 

Which brings me to a very interesting and unique book “Beyond Delicious: The Ghost Whisperer’s Cookbook” written by Mary Ann Winkowski and David Powers and published by Clerisy Press in 2011. Ms. Winkowski, a paranormal investigator, has received some notoriety through her connection with CBS’s Ghost Whisperer and has met and conversed with hundreds of earthbound spirits. Her book is the result of several conversations with spirits in reference to, believe it or not, recipes given to her from those spirits. Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, this book is great reading and is half recipes and half the background behind the recipes. I promise, they will make your paranormal senses tingle! 

One such recipe for Cauliflower Soup was corrected from the afterlife by the spirit who had hand-stitched it on a set of kitchen towels while living. A lady had purchased them at a farmhouse estate sale and had contacted the author about some paranormal activity. While talking with the spirit, Ms. Winkowski learned she had not crossed over because she wanted to correct an error in the recipe for the Cauliflower Soup.  One of the ingredients was 2-3 eggs, but the spirit wanted the new owner to know it was supposed to read 2-3 egg yolks 

For a spirit-filled meal, here’s that recipe: Cook 1 medium cauliflower in salted boiling water until tender and reserve 6-8 flowerets. Then mash the rest, combine with 6 cups hot chicken stock and thicken with 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon butter that’s been stirred into a paste and diluted until smooth. Let simmer and beat 2-3 egg yolks with 1/2 cup cream and add to the cauliflower mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with the reserved flowerets and croutons and chives. 

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