Recent Reviews by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM
Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York
by Renee Wendinger(Legendary Publications / 978-0-615-29755-2 / 2009 / 180 pages / Hardcover $29.95)Reviewed by Donna Aviles for PODBRAM
The orphan train movement of 1854-1929 was a 75-year period in American history when over 250,000 orphaned and abandoned children were transported by train from East coast cities to farming communities in the Midwest in search of homes. The brainchild of Rev. Charles Loring Brace who founded the Children’s Aid Society, the process was soon duplicated by other agencies, including the New York Foundling Hospital. Known at the time as “placing out”, the orphan train movement has come to be recognized as the forerunner of today’s foster care system.
Renee Wendinger, president of the Orphan Train Riders of NY and daughter of orphan train rider Sophie Kaminsky Hillesheim, has recently released Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York. A wonderful addition to other books available on this subject, Extra! Extra! takes a unique approach to the topic, educating the reader through archival materials such as newspaper articles, rider biographies, letters written by mothers who were forced to abandon their children, and original poetry. There are several books that delve deeply into the history of this time, but this work puts a very personal face on the subject that will no doubt grab the interest of anyone who is fortunate enough to pick it up.
A 170-page hardcover, 8 ½ x 11 book using high quality gloss paper, Extra! Extra! is divided into two sections. The first half of the book gives a concise history of the orphan trains, the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital. There are many wonderful photographs and drawings on each page and, as someone who has studied and written about the orphan trains, I was thrilled to find new and interesting material and pictures. There are over thirty biographies of children who rode the trains and there is even an entry by Baby Peggy, a child star from the 1900’s who visited the Foundling Home in 1923.
The second half of Extra! Extra! is devoted to the Newsboys and Bootblacks of the time period. I was most struck to learn that although these boys worked for pennies a day, they had a strong code of conduct and were especially protective of one another. The reader will learn – through photos and news articles of the day – about the lodging, lifestyle, and struggles of the thousands of adolescent boys who often opted for the chance of a better life in the West (via the orphan trains).
Extra! Extra! is well designed and edited, published independently through Legendary Publications. This documentary type book has already gained the attention of professors at Brooklyn College who have developed a graduate level course based on Extra! Extra! entitled, Flight of the Social Classes in Urban Communities.
Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York is sold exclusively through Renee Wendinger’s website at The Orphan Train.
Memoir of a Gambling Man
by Ronald Probstein(iUniverse / 1-440-14187-8 / 978-1-440-14187-4 / May 2009 / 208 pages / $17.95 / $12.21 Amazon / $27.95 hardcover / $19.13 Amazon / $9.95 Kindle)Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM
Sid Probstein lived the life of a gambler and bookie in and around the area of Broadway in New York City during the post WWI and Great Depression era of the 1920’s and 30’s. Sid lived by the motto, “If you’re going to live outside the law, you’d better be honest.” Friendly and well liked, as well as a master of impression, Honest Sid (as he came to be known) was skilled at covering up his shortcomings, creating the guise of success and accomplishment while in fact, he was often just one bet away from financial ruin. Ever the optimist, Honest Sid was quick to find the silver lining in every cloud that darkened his path. He lovingly pursued his wife-to-be, Sally and doted on his only child, Ronald, whom he came to view as his one big success.
Author Ronald Probstein provides for us, in Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man, a peek inside the social scene of two important decades in American history through the daily life and experiences of his father. Much more insightful than a typical history textbook outlining the facts and figures of a generation, memoirs such as Honest Sid serve to reconstruct the fabric of daily life for which written evidence is often scarce and would otherwise be lost to those of us who have not lived it.
Ronald Probstein left his father’s world of illegal gambling after graduating from high school in 1944 and enrolling at New York University where, during his sophomore year, he was offered a paid research position and awarded an academic scholarship to continue his studies. Probstein went on to become an eminent scientist and is now Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although they came to lead dissimilar lives (My father neither knew nor understood anything about science or engineering), the father-son bond remained strong until Sid’s untimely death. Mr. Probstein’s book is a loving tribute to his father’s life and is of greatest value to both his family for generations to come, and to those of us who savor the opportunity to step back and experience life in a different time.
Technically this book is very well done with a uniform, visually appealing layout and only a few errors in spelling and punctuation – easily overlooked by the engaged reader. I would have enjoyed the addition of some period photographs not only of the book’s characters but also of the NYC landmarks mentioned in the book and the family’s various living and workspaces. I enjoyed reading and learning about Honest Sid and can readily recommend Mr. Probstein’s book to anyone with an interest in the memoir genre or life during the pre-depression and Great Depression era.
by Melissa Foster
(Outskirts Press / 1-432-74442-9 / 978-1-432-74442-7 / July 2009 / 304 pages / $14.95 / Amazon $13.45 / Kindle $5.99)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM
Megan Taylor is a single mom with a fourteen-year-old daughter, a tight knit circle of friends, a self-made career as a muralist, and terminal cancer. When Megan’s Way opens up, Megan’s cancer, which had been in remission, has returned with a vengeance. Although she has medication that may prolong the inevitable, she makes the difficult decision to forgo further treatment, effectively shortening her life and by extension she hopes, her daughter’s suffering.
Knowing that she will not be there for her daughter, Megan tries to gently push Olivia away in an effort to have her become more independent. Not knowing that her mother’s cancer has returned, Olivia feels confused and hurt by her mother’s actions. She becomes increasingly distant and withdrawn, eventually acting out in a dangerous way in a bid for her mom’s attention.
Megan’s best friend since childhood, Holly, is married to Jack who has also been in her inner circle of friends for years. Peter is the fourth friend in the group and he has been in and out of a relationship with his partner Cruz, unable to commit totally – perhaps because of his mother’s abandonment when he was just a child. All of these friends have a strong allegiance to one another and especially to Megan. They also all have some pretty intense secrets for a group of adults that are so connected.
In her debut novel, Melissa Foster weaves a tale of friendship and love intertwined with threads of heartache, deceit and missed opportunity. Her characters are complex and for the most part well developed although I did find some of their decisions and actions to be questionable.
Holly, for example, is defined in the beginning of the story by her longing for the child that she and Jack are unable to conceive. When her secret is revealed near the end of the book, however, her actions and negative feelings towards Megan are out of sync with the Holly that we’ve come to know.
Megan and Olivia have an unexplainable, almost spiritual connection that allows Megan to feel the same pain that Livi feels even as she feels it. This ability is witnessed by Megan’s friends on several occasions. For some readers that would be a hard pill to swallow in itself, but with the final reveal, it is thrown even further into question.
One of my favorite characters, and one that seems to have been overlooked by previous reviewers of Megan’s Way, was Jason. He is a young boy that Olivia befriends after Megan’s passing. Jason has lost his own parents to a tragic accident and his friendship and understanding are a key element in helping Olivia through the most difficult time in her young life.
Technically the book is well done with only a few, easy to overlook errors and a larger than normal font for an adult book. What I really find impressive is the author’s presence on the web and the exposure she has been able to garner for Megan’s Way after only a few short months in publication. Melissa Foster is clearly an author who entered the world of independent publishing with not only a vision for her book, but also a well thought out marketing plan.
Megan’s Way arrived in my mailbox with Melissa Foster’s business card which reads in part, “A mother’s journey, a daughter’s will to survive, and a circle of friends shrouded in secrets.” I was intrigued and dove right in hoping for a great read and I was not disappointed. Thank you, Melissa, for the opportunity to get to know Megan and the gang!
by Lorne Rothman
(iUniverse / 0-595-49588-5 / 978-0-595-49588-7 / June 2008 / 184 pages / Ages 9-12 / $13.95)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM
Auja, a young red oak tree, has discovered an amazing creature nibbling on her broadleaves – a collective of tent caterpillars that can actually speak to her! With Southcrop Forest in danger of extinction at the hands of the hewmen and their rollers, the collective – known as Fur – is the only being that can save the trees from certain doom. But doing so will mean a long and arduous journey through dangerous terrain to gather a secret gift that will save Southcrop Vision (the trees’ ability to communicate with one another through their roots, soil and leaves) and the forests themselves. With constant encouragement from his new friend Auja, little Fur takes on the challenge, devoting his entire short life in a quest to save the trees.
Zoologist Lorne Rothman, has delivered in Southcrop Forest a unique combination of science and fantasy designed, I believe, to spark the reader’s imagination as well as one’s conscience to the ecological dangers of over-cutting in our forests. Additionally, there is such an abundance of educational information intertwined throughout the story, as well as in the author’s end notes, that the book could easily be used as a classroom tool. Determining the proper age group for the book, however, might prove to be a challenge. Some of the well researched science and language is quite advanced while portions of the dialog and general story are more appropriate for a younger reader. The target audience might fall somewhere between 10 and 15 year olds, with careful oversight and discussion given to the younger end of that range to ensure that they fully comprehend the story and the science.
The book ends with an intriguing final sentence that leaves me thinking that perhaps this is only the beginning of Mr. Rothman’s eco-fantasy adventures!
Calling Out Your Name
by Ned White
(CreateSpace / 1-442-13242-6 / 978-1-442-13242-9 / April 2009 / 206 pages / $14.95)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM
Woody Elmont of Ogamesh, Georgia, has more on his plate, and on his mind, than most sixteen-year-olds. His father abandoned the family when his mother was pregnant with Woody’s younger brother. His mom later died leaving her two sons in the care of their Aunt Zee. By the time the story opens, the tables have turned and the aging Aunt Zee is the one who needs to be cared for as her mind and body begin to fail. To complicate things, Woody’s younger brother, Tick, is mildly developmentally disabled with little understanding of right and wrong. Woody tries to be the man of the house and handle all these circumstances, but when Tick is sent to a juvenile home for shoplifting, Woody has a guilty sense of relief that at least one burden is in someone else’s hands. When Tick disappears from St. Anselm’s after a questionable fire at the facility, Woody feels it’s his responsibility to bring his “zoo headed brother” back home before he finds himself in even more trouble.
Calling Out Your Name by Ned White is an exciting and adventuresome tale of one boy’s journey toward adulthood as he makes his way across the country seeking to find and save his brother. The story is chocked full of well developed, believable characters who each, in his own way, teaches Woody meaningful life lessons. A unique and surprising twist at the end of Woody’s journey helps him to fully understand earlier events in his life and leaves the reader with a satisfying ending. Mr. White writes with an authentic southern voice, placing the reader in the center of the action, thus making for an engaging, enjoyable read. Technically, this book is professionally presented with only a few errors – nothing that causes the reader to become distracted.
Although billed as a “novel for young adults”, Calling Out Your Name is a story that will be enjoyed by both young and old alike. Mr. White is a talented writer – this is the second of his books that I have reviewed – and I look forward to reading more.