Review — Go Set A Watchman


Review — Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee


To my beloved Harper Lee,

It is with deep sadness I write to you concerning Go Set A Watchman. I write, too, out of much love and respect for your previous work To Kill A Mockingbird.

Ms. Lee, when the literary world became aware of Go Set A Watchman, readers began to buzz. I must say I pre-ordered the book myself and could hardly wait for the release date to roll round. Much to my dismay and disappointment, I recognized the novel as the first draft of the treasured To Kill A Mockingbird.

I understand why Editor Tay Hohoff asked you to revise the manuscript. The voice of Scout in Go Set A Watchman rings sweet with the POV in To Kill A Mockingbird. As a writer, it was evident to me telling the story from Scout’s point of view was a brilliant decision on Ms. Hohoff part.

While Go Set A Watchman topped the best seller list, other readers were as disappointed as I. Further, please understand you are not to blame. With Miss Alice gone, you trusted a new lawyer. And, I must say shame on you, Tonja Carter, for your participation in duping the literary world. Shame on Harper Collins for allowing its imprint Harper to publish the book under false pretenses.

Their are those who review Go Set A Watchman as though it is a “new” stand alone novel. These reviewers are dishonest in their approach to this book. Maybe they are intimidated by the literary giants. Personally, a book review good or bad must be honest, if nothing else.

When you left this world, I was sad. Once, in a writing project, I chose you as my literary mother. I loved you and still do. I take consolation in knowing you are not here to read this letter. I hope news of the disastrous publication of Go Set A Watchman never reached your bedside.

Finally, the fans of great literature will accept this book as a grave mistake on the part of the greedy publishing world. You, my beloved Harper Lee, are still one of the best writer’s of my lifetime. Thank you for To Kill A Mockingbird.

Rest in peace,



Review — Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel by Robert Gipe


Review — Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel by Robert Gipe

Dawn Jewell

Reading Trampoline is like reading a combination of social studies, history, daily news, and the comic strips. Dawn Jewell is the narrator and main character. She is fifteen and describes herself as “more of a kid fifteen than a grown fifteen.” Author Robert Gipe does a great job showing the working class people of Eastern Kentucky Coalfields (not to be confused with the town of Eastern, Kentucky).

Dawn’s Mamaw is politically involved with the strip mining taking place in Canard County, a true to life place with true to life people having true to life problems. Canard is part of the “walled up rat maze of mountains” where Dawn lives and desperately wants to leave.

Her momma is a drug addict and her daddy died several years before the story takes place. Dawn is somewhat a celebrity due to comments she made at a meeting. Afterwards, she was interviewed by a nearby radio station and became known as a treehugger. Her stand against mountain top removal by the coal mines astounds her proponents and outrages her opponents.

Dawn is a loving character who wants to be loved. By her momma. By her local disc jockey. Or by her Aunt June. In trying to run from the life she has, Dawn runs into trouble after trouble, from getting suspended from school to possibly killing her momma’s boyfriend, to wanting to kill her uncle. Though full of tragedy and heartache the Jewell family comes back together. And life almost begins brand new.

One does not need to live in Eastern Kentucky (nor Eastern, Ky) to understand the devastation caused by strip mining. One does not need to drive the winding roads of the “maze of mountains” to feel the isolation of Canard County residents.

One does needs to read Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel. It is a touching, laugh-out-loud novel worth the read and possibly worth a tour of the Kentucky Coalfields.

Review — A Life of Dreams: The Good Times of Sportswriter Fred Russell by Andrew Derr


Review — A Life of Dreams: The Good Times of Sportswriter Fred Russell by Andrew Derr

Dream Come True

Whether it’s a childhood fantasy or a well thought out plan, dreams can and do come true, some by chance, some by choice, and maybe none more frequently than in the world of sports.

Author, Andrew Derr is a 1992 recipient of Vanderbilt University’s Fred Russell-Grantland Rice Scholarship for Sports Journalism. It is befitting that as an author Derr pay tribute to one Vanderbilt man who made the scholarship possible.

Fred Russell, Sports Writer

A Life of Dreams: The Good Times of Sportswriter Fred Russell, Derr tells the story of how a young man’s dream of living in the sports world becomes a reality for Fred Russell. Russell’s life represented integrity in the world of sports journalism and though his love of sports started in the small community of War Trace, Tennessee, his sports columns took his name from Nashville to every major city in the US.

The network of Fred Russell followers is amazing considering he worked without Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones. Russell’s life, as told by Derr, is chock full of sports history including (mention of) the scandalous story of Olympian Wilma Rudolph.

Derr highlights Russell’s courtroom experience, as he tells of Russell covering an Atlanta trial. The lawsuit was against the Saturday Evening Post charged with libel by Wally Butts, University of Georgia Athletic Director, and Paul “Bear” Bryant, University of Alabama Head Football Coach.

Fred Russell was a loved and respected journalist. Derr credits Russell as founder of Banquet of Champions, and provides a list of awards attributed to Russell throughout his sports writing career.

Fans, Students, Journalists

This is a natural read for Vanderbilt University fans or students. Students will know VU history lives in the pages of Derr’s book. Sports history addicts will relish in details Derr outlines, albeit the book is not always chronological.

Lastly, though Derr often repeats himself, this book is a necessary read for journalism majors, especially sports writers, Russell’s legacy and the message Derr conveys best is how to realize your dream. Remember “if you built it they will come”? Russell’s message relayed by Derr is if you work at your dream, build it, it will become a reality, and others will be there along the way to help make it the biggest and best dream ever. It doesn’t matter if it’s a childhood fantasy or a well thought plan, dreams can and do come true.

Reprinted with permission from 2nd & Church magazine

Review — The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman



It was the setting that roused my interest in The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. The novel is entrenched in the history of Masada, a mountain in the Judeaen desert in Israel. My familiarity with Masada is rooted in a personal visit taken while touring Israel. Hoffman’s story adds life and meaning to my trip as she weaves history with fiction in her enthralling tale of Flavius Josephus‘ historical account of Rome‘s attempt to conquer, brutalize, and enslave more than 900 Israeli rebels. Rather than surrender, these few elected the method of their execution. The Roman army ascended Masada to find all dead, except two women and five children.

Yael, The Assassin’s Daugher

These women, Masada women, tell the story of The Dovekeepers and life on the mountain before the destroyers arrive. Yael, The Assassin’s Daughter, is a woman of convincing strength and determination. Alone, she brings believability to the concept of women surviving this siege. Unloved by her father, Yael finds love in the arms of Ben Simon, also an assassin. Ben Simon never reaches Masada, yet Yael carries her love for him her whole life.

Revka, The Baker’s Wife

Revka, The Baker’s Wife, is resolute about protecting her grandsons. Traumatized by the brutality that descends upon their desert campsite, the twin boys stop speaking. Revka’s son-in-law turns into a fierce warrior for Masada’s army in order to avenge his wife’s death. Revka, a murderer of sorts, remains stalwart despite the heavy burden of grief inflicted upon her as a direct result of Rome’s actions.

Aziza, The Warrior’s Beloved

Aziza, The Warrior’s Beloved, is a warrior in her own right. Trained by her step-father, Aziza’s burning desire is to use her skills to fight for Masada’s safety. She is an expert with bow and arrow. Four warriors, one enslaved by the Jews on Masada, influence the direction of Aziza’s life and her role in the war with Rome. Of the four, her soul mate is the least likely to love her for the woman she becomes.

Shirah, The Witch of Moab

Shirah, The Witch of Moab, is possibly the weakest of the four main characters. Her residential popularity is due to her magical powers. She has a spell or a potion for any plague or situation imaginable. Yet, there is no cure for her own distorted view of motherly love or the immobilizing grip of fear she endures when she thinks of Channa, wife of Shirah’s lover.

What We Like

Hoffman perfects style and characterization in this book. She takes the reader to this mountain of hope by way of life threatening deserts. The heroines are strong, resourceful, and devoted. The Dovekeepers doesn’t try to rewrite history. It just tries to clarify it by offering one author’s perspective, after years of research, about what happened. Hoffman’s hard work paid off.

This is the first book I’ve read by Hoffman. Not a can’t-put-it-down type story, it’s more like a can’t-wait-to-read-more-tomorrow. In the meantime, Masada, Israel, and the characters of The Dovekeepers burrow deep in the heart leaving a never-to-be-forgotten historical fact. Out of over 900 souls, two women and five children survived.

Review — Nightwoods by Charles Frazier


The Characters

Is it safe to write Charles Frazier may not produce a second literary masterpiece? Yet, his third novel, Nightwoods, comes closer to this feat than second book .

Nightwoods shows how bad life can be for some (Luce) and how bad some can be for life (Bud). Luce, the main character, is so much an introvert. She won’t allow readers to fall in love with her; and without an emotional connection, it’s hard to root for her. She runs from the past and tries to keep the present at bay by isolating herself as caretaker of an abandoned lodge.

Bud has a misconception about the blood of Jesus and sets out to find his deceased wife’s children; the only witnesses to a heinous crime committed against their mother.

Stubblefield brings life to Nightwoods. We cheer for him and can’t wait to find out whether he is the much needed hero in this languid account set in a 1960’s mountain community.

Opinions Matter

Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly (September 30, 2011), explains Frazier’s meticulous sentence structure necessitates rereading certain passages. Brunner says, because the reader is trying to “unpack the magic” of Frazier’s sentences, the book feels longer than its 260 pages.

Now, with all due respect to Mr. Frazier and Mr. Brunner, I disagree. There is a noticeable disconnect in Frazier’s prose for sure. The writing feels over edited, deadline rushed. The magic is missing and the reader feels tricked.

Suspense Missing

The brink of suspense is etched throughout Nightwoods. In several scenes, we are ready to hold our breath, brace ourselves for impact. Then, like a tease, the author backs off. The story suffers without the nerve-wracking follow through.

Don’t expect Nightwoods to be Cold-Mountain great. It isn’t. But, it is worth reading, after all Charles Frazier is the author. And we love him. We will continue to read anything he writes. Who knows? He may not produce a second literary masterpiece. Then again, he just may.

Review — Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen



Written by Sara Gruen, Water For Elephants starts with a death and ends with a new life (of sorts). The narrator,  Jacob Jankowski, drops out of Cornell University his senior year, hops a freight train, and (yes) joins the circus. The name of the book is “lifted” from an attorney in an assisted living facility who claims he used to carry water for elephants in of all places the circus. Lambasting the attorney in a cafeteria full of his peers, Jacob argues the impossibility of carrying water for elephants. The tales that follow the geriatric feud support an underlying theme in the book. The circus is not what it appears to be, neither is life.  Jankowski cements his credibility as he weaves stories of youthful adventures with the reaNlities of  aging.

Now on DVD

The storyline runs parallel with Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. Both are told by old men. Both relate the escapades of youth. Both narrators require caregivers after old age sets in, one narrator is living until death, the other is dying to live. Gruen’s writing has an advantage over Frazier’s; she strings words in a fun, easy-to-read, page turner. Water For Elephants the movie is on DVD not.