Dust Bowl Girls: A Review

Dust Bowl Girls: A Team's Quest for Basketball GloryDust Bowl Girls: A Team’s Quest for Basketball Glory
Author: Lydia Reeder
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Nonfiction

5.0 Stars

Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl. Women’s basketball. The season that made history. The 1930s were a hard time for many, but none so much as the farmers of Oklahoma. At the time, poor families made dresses out of grain sacks, basketball players owned one pair of shoes, and college (especially for girls) was a distant dream. Coach Babb had different ideas. He toured the state, recruiting the strongest players he could find in the high school circuit; endowing those he found with skill, and more importantly, purpose. He coached the Cardinals in the city of Durant, and things were about to change, irreversibly, forever.

Dust Bowl Girls, ten years in the making, is bursting at the margins with the intimate details of the Cardinal team members’ lives, providing genuine heart to a narrative only half-recorded in the newspapers of the time. Taking advantage of the scrapbooks and oral stories from the personalities so lovingly portrayed in the text, Lydia Reeder paints the story of a team of hard-on-their-luck teenagers rising up out of the dust of poverty and the Great Depression, bringing hope and honor to their small city of Durant in Oklahoma.

As a sports story and as a memoir, Dust Bowl Girls recreates the atmosphere of the early 1900s, as politics and traditionalism threatened the game that brought Oklahoma Presbyterian College and its basketball team such pride. Throughout the novel, the reader is given ample context, so that she can understand what the team was truly up against. From First Lady Hoover’s mission to remove all women from competitive sports, to a run-down team bus that nearly careened off a mountain when its brakes failed. The human moments come from the shy, yet naked windows into the minds of the players and their coach Babb, as personal conflicts and daily drama propel them towards their eventual, highly-unanticipated games at the AAU National Finals.

Reeder writes with hungry excitement, rallying the reader to root for the Cardinals, and doesn’t disappoint, with energetic retellings of the key games of the team’s most important season. Lovers of sports fiction would find it hard to be disappointed by this delightful and enlightening window into a history that very nearly never was.

Algonquin Books provided me with an advanced copy for an honest review. Dust Bowl Girls releases on January 17, 2017. Preorder your copy here.

Little Nothing, by Marisa Silver

Little Nothing by Marisa SilverLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver
Penguin Group/Blue Rider Press

3.0 Stars

“The silence is so dense that it is just as hard on the baby’s eardrums as is any sound. It is the silence that will become the refrain, when a stranger falls speechless in the child’s presence, or when a villager pushes her children behind her skirts as she passes the narrow market lanes to protect them from what might be catching.”

The story of Pavla the dwarf girl begins with an old woman giving birth. She screams as the gypsy woman that bewitched her old womb to “fill with a flower” urges her to push. Her father, a plumber in a town too superstitious for modern toilets suffocates a chicken in the back, waiting to hear his child cry.

Pavla is born with a large head and everything else too small. Her words are powerful, her situation crushingly real. Too real, in fact, for how the story plays out.

It is always a risky decision to write a book where the main character changes, especially if that first personality is the one that attaches herself to the reader’s heart. In Little Nothing, Silver’s writing is beautiful. Literary. But a transition in the first third left me stumbling through the second, and by the time I had recovered, the third had shaken things all up again. The ending left me feeling hollow, and while I appreciate the allegory and experimental nature of the work, I didn’t feel like Little Nothing ever really concluded. Perhaps it was not meant to.

The story of Pavla was curious and compelling. But Pavla changes into something else, and then something else, and then something else, and despite all the new, somewhat clichéd but interesting incarnations of the girl called “Little Nothing,” none felt as genuine to me as Pavla. And due to that, despite Silver’s incredibly strong writing and my absolute love of fantasy, I found the fantasy elements distracting and diluting of the real power the story could have portrayed.

The publisher provided me with an advance copy in exchange for a review. Little Nothing will be available for purchase on September 13, 2016.

The Wolf Road, by Beth Lewis: A Review

51uCaWI9e3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
Published by Crown Publishers, Penguin Random House

5.0 Stars

Elka hasn’t had much luck in her life. Between the nightmare of the thunderheads that keep her awake at night, and the raging memories behind the locked doors in her memory, she can count the people she’s cared for on a single hand.

Trapper, a man who found her in the woods when she was seven and raised her as his own. A man who showed her everything he knew about how to survive. Who taught her how to skin and smoke just about every kind of animal. A man who, later, she finds out, is wanted for the murder of several women.

Missy, a woman in the woods–a flicker of a memory–who bandaged her hand after it got burned.

And Penelope, a lace-wearing blonde from the South, where the events of the Damn Stupid have turned Boston into a sweltering tropic.

Elka lives in a world deeply scarred by the generations of the past, where nukes erroneously landed in the far north, near “BeeCee,” irreparably changing the world’s climate and reducing society back to its very basics. As such, The Wolf Road is peppered with all the elements of a classic Western, but in the undercurrent is a world of sneakers and fashion magazines: steampunk without the steam.

Beth Lewis throws us heart-deep into this dangerous and cynical world with a sharp, powerful first-person narrative. Elka’s voice is raw and uncensored. In her eyes we see the mirror-clear reality of the human soul: sometimes ugly and unforgivable, sometimes tragic and beautiful. One of the most beautiful things about Elka is she is not written as flawed–she is written as human, and that’s one of the things that endeared me so greatly to this book.

The story itself is an undulating mass of heartbreak, tempered only by stunning moments of redemption. Unlike a lot of grit fantasy out there, Beth Lewis uses a masterful hand to guide the reader through. I trusted the author, fell into the darkness, and finished the book changed in some small way.

Of course, as with any book, there are the subjective things. I did not find some of the stuff Elka knew about to be congruous with her illiterate, woodland upbringing, but I also see how it would be hard to introduce this visceral world of ruin without some of it. I had my doubts about the animal companion ‘Wolf,’ at times it starting to make the beautiful analogy of wolves in the wood (which teetered on the edge of a Little Red Riding Hood allusion) a little too literal, but in the end, Lewis wins me over here as well.

All in all, a masterful debut from a writer I am eager to see more from.

NetGalley furnished a copy of The Wolf Road in exchange for my honest review.

This book will release on July 5th in hardcover. Pre-order it on Amazon here.

Dear Opl: A Review

Dear Opl by Shelley Sackier, MG, YA,, Humor

Dear Opl
Shelley Sackier

My Review: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I’ve devoured a book as sweet and sticky as Dear Opl. Shelley Sackier’s breakout novel is charming and sophisticated, written to be both entertaining and educational.

Opal is thirteen years old, and life simply isn’t going well for her. Her father has passed away from cancer, her younger brother is dressing up in girls clothing, and her mother is simply… absent. With nothing but sugar to offer sweetness in her life, Opal fills the holes in her heart with Hershey’s, bonbons, and bright jellybeans. Of course, gorging herself on sweets isn’t without its consequences: Opal has gained some weight – a lot of weight, actually – and now, the only thing people seem to see when they look at her is her double chins.

I found this book an absolute pleasure. Opal is a witty, flawed main character with plenty of depth. I felt the narrative was genuine, without contrived reactions or conflicts meant to up the stakes artificially (minus one of the events at the end of the book, which felt a bit underplayed, but I think for the audience this book is meant for, it won’t be an issue). I loved G-Pa, and Ollie, and Opal’s friend, Summer. The book takes real issues, offers its readers opportunities to think about obesity, and the solutions to that… but most of all, its undercurrent of not being fearful of change is what makes Dear Opl a real gem. My only gripes are really not applicable to a book for this age group, but they include a feeling that some character arcs were somewhat rushed to completion, and that I would have liked to have had a lot more time with each of the different elements of the book. To that end, the book is left rather open, so maybe we’ll have a chance to see Opal and her friends in another book soon!

I’d recommend this book to any middle grade or young adult reader looking for a book with lots of laughs, and not laden with romance. And, if you’re not satisfied with only the humor inside the book, I suggest checking out peakperspective.com, the blog home of Shelley Sackier.

Some quotes to wet your palette:

Plug Your Book! A Review

Title: Plug Your Book! Online Marketing for Authors
Author: Steve Weber
Publisher: Weber Books
Year: 2007

Rating:

 

 

I picked up this book as part of my efforts to learn as much about book marketing as I could for a small press back in late 2013. At the time, I was doing marketing for the eco-horror anthology Growing Concerns out of Chupa Cabra House, and this seemed like a good book to start with. I ordered my copy in paperback and began reading it the day I received it in the mail. I never ended up finishing it, due to finding another book, Indie & Small Press Book Marketing by William Hertling, a little more up-to-date and easy to parse.

This week, I decided to give the book another shot, and I’m sad to say that the book is in dire need of updating. I don’t think an update will be happening anytime soon, though, as Weber’s website, as well, has shifted focus to the reasonably well-known Kindle Buffet.

Many of the services mentioned inside are out of date (MobiPocket and LIT files are still listed as the most recent digital book formats) or gone altogether, including AuthorViews.com, MySpace (though his sections for MySpace are translatable to Facebook, in a way), and Google Print-on-Demand.

In the end, there are better books out there. And perhaps more than books, blogs like YourAuthorPlatform are generally more up-to-date.

What you can expect inside

Contents