Book Review: Charcoal’s World by Hugh A. Dempsey

Charcoal’s World by Hugh Aylmer Dempsey
Published by U of Nebraska Press on 1979
Genres: Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies), History, Native American
Pages: 178
Format: Hardcover

Charcoal’s World was bounded by the mountains, hills, and plains of southwestern Alberta. That was the homeland of his people, the Blood Indians, but Charcoal was not free to enjoy it as his ancestors had. For millennia, they had lived each day in the company of spirits, and even with the coming of the white man that much didønot change.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Charcoal’s World by Hugh Dempsey is the third in a trilogy of books I am reading for my Great Plains literature class this fall. This book, unlike the other two (Waterlily and Fools Crow), comes across as more of an historical tale first and story second. While the others were also filled with interesting historical facts, Charcoal’s World goes even further to discuss the laws and the individual lives of the people surrounding Charcoal all with the intent, it seems, of providing us the whole story.

But even more so than the historical information included in Charcoal’s story is the amazing survival nature that Charcoal possessed. He was on the run for weeks, evading, eluding, and sometimes even slipping under the noses of the police and the Indian scouts who were hunting him. He was on a mission, and even though those of us who have not been raised in the way Charcoal was raised may not understand how that mission could be so important, we can understand – through our own faiths and convictions, how desperately Charcoal sought to fulfill his own. He was a man of honor throughout his mission, he acted according to how he was called, and his journey ended up being as thrilling for this reader as it was tragic for Charcoal in the end.

While Dempsey’s writing is a bit more stilted and difficult to really get into than Welch’s and Deloria’s, Charcoal’s story is strong enough and fascinating enough to make up for it.

Book Review: Fools Crow by James Welch

Fools Crow by James Welch
Published by Penguin on 1987
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Native American, Native American Studies, Westerns
Pages: 391

The year is 1870, and Fool’s Crow, so called after he killed the chief of the Crows during a raid, has a vision at the annual Sun Dance ceremony. The young warrior sees the end of the Indian way of life and the choice that must be made: resistance or humiliating accommodation. “A major contibution to Native American literature.” —Wallace Stegner.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It’s always interesting to go back and re-read a book that piqued your interest in something. I read Fools Crow in 2012 for a Non-Western Literature course during my undergraduate study as an English Literature student and it was this book that set me on the course I am following today as a first year PhD student in English Literature. It was Fools Crow that woke me up, that made me question everything I knew and set me out on a journey where the questions far out-numbered the answers.

This time, I’m reading the book in preparation for a class in Great Plains literature – and this book (along with Charcoal’s World and Waterlily) are the introductory texts for the first week in class. Already, after just reading 2 of the 3, I can see the connections and the timeline and the ways through which our discussion will be framed. Still, I couldn’t help but notice the power of dreams throughout Fool’s Crow and, after reading Waterlily, their significance stuck out even more.

For all the tragedy in Fool’s Crow, there is also beauty – beauty in the way the Pikuni people perform their kinship and loyalty, beauty in the rituals (medicine, marriage, sacred), and beauty in their names. I mean, I cannot get over how perfectly the names fit with who they were in their lives.

Fools Crow also hints at, although it does not fully explore, the budding residential school system. It interacts directly with the forming treaties, and also points out just how futile those flimsy pieces of written word are when put up against a regiment or group of “Napikwans” who are fully armed and out for blood.

Welch does not write for an audience who needs their hand held while reading. He writes in a way that demands you step into his arena and you listen to the stories of the Pikuni people on the pages.

Book Review: Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria

Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria
Published by U of Nebraska Press on 1990
Genres: Ethnic Studies, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Native American Studies, Social Science
Pages: 244
Format: Paperback

This novel of the Dakota Sioux written by Sioux ethnologist Deloria takes protagonist Waterlilyøthrough the everyday and the extraordinary events of a Sioux woman’s life.

Ella Deloria is part of a family of storytellers, thinkers, and activists. Even if the reader knows little of this going into Waterlily, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not just the simple story of a young woman named Waterlily; rather, this is a story framed around the life of that young woman that is intended to teach the uneducated reader the sophisticated, complicated, and beautiful way of living through kinship bonds.

Deloria wrote the story of Waterlily with the intention of deliberately avoiding any overt discussion of colonial contact, and for good reason. While it is still apparent in her vocabulary that she has been educated in Euro-American influenced schools (for example – she regularly uses Judeo-Christian terminology to refer to the behavior of the women in the camp) the essence of the story is more in the descriptions of what kinship is and how the every day activities of the camps were centered on the nurturing of those bonds. In Waterlily’s story we are presented with values and ideals that, while not unfamiliar to the Euro-American, are still largely unused by today’s society. That society is rooted in individualism, in capitalism, and the need for personal gain over the needs of others. Waterlily’s story presents the other side quite well. The generosity shown by her family, the respect she shows to her husbands family, her need for her own “blood” still to be able to be carefree when she desires, and so much more are all indicative of a lifestyle and way of thinking that continues to thrive today, in spite of the colonialist attitude of “our way is best.”

Deloria’s work with students at Haskell, and other Native residential schools was vital to the perpetuation of stories like Waterlily. And, as I said earlier, while she did not escape the influence of the Euro-American educational system, I think Waterlily is a standing testament to how the big ideas continue to persevere through the horrific intent of cultural and physical genocide that was going on through the medium of those schools.


Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Published by HarperCollins UK on 2012-04-12
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 400
Format: eBook

Hannah Payne is a RED. Her crime: MURDER. And her victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child. Lying on a table in a bare room, covered by only a paper gown, Hannah awakens to a nightmare. Cameras broadcast her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new Chromes – criminals whose skin has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime – is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah refuses to reveal the identity of her father. But cast back into a world that has marked her for life, how far will she go to protect the man she loves? An enthralling and chilling novel from the author of MUDBOUND, for fans of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and THE SCARLET LETTER.

I received this book for free from Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This was an interesting one for me. I was reminded heavily of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” all the way through this book, but there’s enough there that’s different that made this an unputdownable story for me.

I’m always interested in what prompts an author to write a story, and for this one, Hillary Jordan gives us a bit of insight in the final section of this book – and of course, it comes from a “what if?” moment. I can’t see the ultra conservatives in my circle being thrilled with the story here (then again, they probably wouldn’t be thrilled with Atwood’s either), but some of the things Jordan wrote about when describing Hannah’s journey had me shivering from dread – it’s quite realistic and very likely, should certain individuals get their way.

Overall, interesting book and definitely draws you in. I was disappointed in the ending, but by that point, I had already been hooked.

State of the Blog

I don’t know if there are any followers left out there, but for those who are still around, it’s quite clear that Graduate School has taken the wind out of my blogging sails.

I’d like to change that in 2016. I have more realistic goals, and I realized as I sat here debating whether or not to renew my domain, that I do want to keep this blog. It is an important part of my life and it’s helped pave my path to my current situation.

So what does that mean for the posts?

It means that there will be less of them. But they will be more in depth and, mostly, related to my current field of study. There will be a lot of works reviewed by Native American authors, a lot more non-fiction, and quite a bit of fiction as well. This semester I’m taking a Canadian Lit class, so I’ll be reviewing 14 titles by Canadian authors! I’m super excited by those.

It means, also, that I will be updating on real life things more often too. I’ve applied to five PhD programs and am crossing my fingers that acceptance (and funding) comes through. If not, there’s an adventure out there waiting for me as well. But one thing is certain – the journey through this blog, into graduate school, and life in general, has shaped my reading and understanding of so many social justice issues that.. I just can’t even say how much it’s changed me.

I’m a living example of someone who changed drastically through reading. If you ever would like to hear my story, just drop me a note.

Book Review: The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by HarperCollins on 2015-03-24
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 368
Format: eARC

From the New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

I received this book for free from William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’ve been a fan of Marisa de los Santos since reading Love Walked In.  It was that book that introduced me to a world outside of the cheap, paperback, grocery-store romances and, as such, Marisa’s books will always hold a special place in my heart.  I was excited to see that she was releasing a new one so I requested The Precious One to review and put it on my bedside table as a treat – something to read outside of all of the graduate studies and required reading that has been bogging me down this semester.

The Precious One is a story of family: messy, broken, beautiful, heart-breaking family.  Two sisters, Taisy and Willow, take turns narrating and introducing us to various members of the family.  There’s stories of lost love, of first crushes, of mysterious backgrounds and long-lost family members who are just emerging into the picture.  It’s almost too much, to be honest – I felt as if I needed to stop and just catch my breath a few times because of the amount of drama and craziness surrounding these two women.

Still, in spite of the high levels of unbelievable occurrences, Marisa de los Santos taps in well to the complicated, messy way in which sisters come to love one another.  I have five sisters and while my relationship with each of them is wildly different from one another, the few that are good are so good that it feels as if my heart squeezes to protect itself from the sheer emotion I feel when I think of those sisters.

The Precious One is a great beach/summer read.  This is the book that will give you something thrilling every time you pick it up, even if it’s just for a chapter at a time, and yet will not have you so disturbed or distracted that you can’t enjoy life around you or beautiful weather or gorgeous views.

Check out these reviews!

  • The Precious One was a good escape that flew by and left me feeling happy at the end. ” –  Kahakai Kitchen
  • “This certainly is a wonderful story to read while trying to relax. It’s a romantic book with a touch of family secrets and friendship.” – Once Upon a Twilight
  • “I absolutely devoured this book and am now eyeballing another book I have waiting for me by this same author, Belong To Me.” – Book Journey

Book Review: The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch

The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch
Published by Penguin Books on 1987
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Native American
Pages: 179
Format: Paperback

Jim Loney is a half-breed, of white and Indian parentage. He is thirty-five years old and lives in a small Montana town. He is gently going mad. Estranged from both his community and his Indian roots, Loney drinks cheap wine alone at night, trying to discover the origins of his despair. His dreams are filled with messages of doom, and they haunt his waking hours, chaining his very soul.

My Review:

It’s difficult to talk about books one reads when they correspond to the area of research that individual is involved heavily in.  I picked up The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch on the recommendation of a mentor of mine and I knew, going in, that there would be a lot of times I would want to stop reading and start really diving into what I was reading and analyzing it and driving myself crazy with new research thoughts and ideas.  But, about a chapter in, I put that part of my mind back into a box and I decided that I would give Jim Loney my full attention: as someone who was reading the book to listen to the story of this character.

This is not a happy-go-lucky, feel-good story.  Jim Loney is a man who struggles with identification, having a Native mother and a White father.  His struggles with identity bleed into all aspects of his life, and even though he recognizes this fact, and recognizes that he is surrounded by people who could, potentially, help him get past all of it, he is a man who realizes that ultimately it has to be his choice to do so.  The Death of Jim Loney, as a book, explores that idea.  It gives us insight into the man who is Jim and takes us down that dark path right along with him.

I’ve been of fan of James Welch’s writing for a few years now.  Fool’s Crow was one of the first books I was introduced to and I’ve read it three times now and get something out of it each time I read it.  As a child, I always wanted to read western stories and was fascinated with the romantic notions of cowboys and indians, but I never actually made the leap into the genre and let myself go crazy.  Something always felt off.  Now, I recognize that the stories I was craving then were stories like Jim Loney’s.  Authors like James Welch and Louise Erdrich.  And as a child, these stories would have been over my head.

The Death of Jim Loney is not a book I would recommend to get into this genre of literature.  It’s small, and as such, it’s deceptive in a way that may make you think it’ll be an easy one to get.  But, ultimately, this one packs a punch that I’ll be feeling for days.  If you want recommendations, please comment and ask me for some.  If you decide to go ahead and read this one as your first foray into Native literature, then ask me questions – I’m right here.  Mostly, I invite you to start exploring, and if this review helps you get there, then I’ve done something right.

Check out these reviews!

  • “As well as being a portrayal of Native American life, Jim’s character is an excellent depiction of anyone who feels alienated – the unemployed, those battling alcoholism, anyone.” –  No More Work Horse
  • “With these finely sketched characters, Welch constructs a portrait of Loney’s whole life, of the lives of the people who knew him and abandoned him and loved him.” – EthnoLit

Book Review: Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O’Brien
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2002
Genres: Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Animals, General, Mammals, Nature, Technology & Engineering
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback

For twenty years Dan O’Brien struggled to make ends meet on his cattle ranch in South Dakota. But when a neighbor invited him to lend a hand at the annual buffalo roundup, O’Brien was inspired to convert his own ranch, the Broken Heart, to buffalo


In a book that combines honest details about the bitter realities facing environmentalist ranchers with informative facts about wildlife, grass, and the struggles and rewards of raising Bison, Dan O’Brien manages to transform what might otherwise be a dull story story into one that tugs at the heartstrings. One of the first observations made in Buffalo for the Broken Heart gets to the figurative “heart” of the matter: the idea that, when it comes to the Great Plains, “it’s just a big, empty land” (6).

The following pages in O’Brien’s memoir prove otherwise. Recently divorced and struggling to marry his desire to preserve the wildlife and start down the path to the restoration of the Great Plains, O’Brien sells off his cattle and decides to invest in thirteen buffalo “runts,” nicknamed “The Gashouse Gang” after a cartoon that O’Brien’s working partner recalls seeing when he was young (76). Although the majority of the book is dedicated to chronicling the journey of the Broken Heart Ranch as it transitions to a bison ranch, there are detoured moments that enhance the storytelling atmosphere while also bringing home O’Brien’s message. Drawing from real life anecdotes about learning to work with teenage boys, tragedies involving the health of the community people around the ranch, the budding start of a relationship with a woman who is now his wife, O’Brien deftly draws his reader in and makes the story a personal one.

In addition to these moments of life, O’Brien provides his readers with a history lesson by addressing both the northern Great Plains of the “American imagination” as a “product of popular culture, mythology, and Madison Avenue” when it comes to cattle farming, as well as the benefit the buffalo provides to the reality of those same plains (25). In a similar fashion, the “mythic American character” that is lauded for “fairness, self-reliance, toughness, and honesty” is discussed mid-way through O’Brien’s narrative (95-96). Rather than leaving his reader to believe that O’Brien represents that myth, he addresses reality through the following quote from real estate broker, Dick Saterlee:

“These are good people out here,” he said “Most honest people in the world. They wouldn’t lie to you for anything.” He shook his head. “But they’ll lie to themselves every time. (102)”

One of the most compelling moments in Buffalo for the Broken Heart has very little to do with buffalo, on the surface at least. In a moving section about the struggle the state of Utah Division of Parks and Recreation was having with the peregrine falcon project of Antelope Island and the exploding population of the great horned owl, O’Brien steps into the role of a peregrine, shedding his human identity in order to fill the role of a “surrogate daddy falcon” (147, 150). In this section, O’Brien balances the distastefulness of the act against the horned owls with the knowledge that what he is doing is something that would have been handled in a different way in a time when the land and wildlife were living in balance. In telling this story, O’Brien sets the tone for the treatment of his own bison toward the end of the memoir.

The final pages of the memoir deal with death. Both the death by suicide of a young man who had worked with O’Brien and been included in this narrative, and the death of five bulls by an arrangement intended to provide them with the most humane death possible. Life on the Great Plains is never easy and that is stressed throughout this narrative. Additionally, O’Brien refers time and again to the Sioux (Rosebud, Lakota) philosophy on life and it is apparent that he not only values the sentiment and tradition that inform those philosophies but also that he works to incorporate them into his own daily life and work.

O’Brien’s memoir is a moving, interesting, alternatively funny and emotion-tugging look at the struggles of a modern-day rancher. He provides his readers with an open look into his life, both personal and professional, and by doing so, his love of the land and his desire to see it restored and healed comes across loud and clear. There is a distinct call to action to support the Broken Heart Ranch in his Afterword with the inclusion of his website and, after reading his story, I was quite ready to look it up and read more.

Book Review: The Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner

The Tarball Chronicles by David Gessner
Published by Milkweed, Milkweed Editions on 2011
Genres: Coastal Regions & Shorelines, Ecosystems & Habitats, Environmental Conservation & Protection, Nature, Oceans & Seas
Pages: 300
Format: Hardcover

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history: over the course of three months, nearly five million barrels of crude oil gushed into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and washed up along our coast. Yet it was an avoidable environmental catastrophe preceded by myriad others, from Three-Mile Island to the Exxon Valdez. Traveling the shores of the Gulf from east to west with oceanographers, subsistence fisherman, seafood distributors, and other long-time Gulf residents, acclaimed author and environmental advocate David Gessner offers an affecting account of the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

My Review:

Travel stories, personal anecdotes, scientific evidence, soul-searching questions, and environmental tourism all combine in David Gessner’s beautifully written book, The Tarball Chronicles. Even the cover, featuring the image of a man’s body, clad in protective gear, with the head of the infamous “oiled pelican” gives the reader a predictive look into the story held within the pages of Gessner’s book. Much like the illustrative pelican/man, Gessner draws heavily on the idea of connectivity and how it is impossible to escape that web that binds us together with every other thing.

One of the most prominent themes in The Tarball Chronicles is the expansion on a John Muir quote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” (157). Gessner argues that while we think we can outsmart nature, the reality is that we may fool her for a lifetime but “She’s coming to get us eventually, and she’s coming back to haunt us right now” (63). In this book he shows evidence of this time and time again, tracing the damage of the oil spill path now just across the beaches of the gulf but into the depths of the marshes and through the stories of the people who are dealing with the consequences. In a poignant statement near the end of his book, we are reminded that the spider’s web “takes the genius of time to weave it, but, as hard as it is to construct, its easy to rip apart” (255). In a similar fashion, Gessner weaves together the strands of his story to create a delicate, balanced web that demonstrates in a remarkable fashion the interconnectivity between humankind and nature – from the diving gannets down to the proliferation of periwinkles.

Part of that web involves asking some hard questions, and Gessner does not shy away from not only asking those questions but admits that, at times, he does not have the answer either. He spends time challenging the idea of what makes us human by engaging subjects like sacrifice, hypocrisy, insatiability, tradition and identity, the need to belong, and ambition.   Gessner asks if it is impossible for us to be “happy with less,” or if that is a sacrifice we are willing to make in order to “keep living the way we do” (279, 4). He argues that perhaps, instead of sacrificing, we should rework what it is we are looking for, to “refine and revise what we mean by ‘more’ and ‘better’” (67). Or is it in the process of looking for this “more and better” that our desire to control and fix is an urge that we have to live with (39)? In a statement that reverberates throughout the book, Gessner points out that some of the things that were broken “had taken a million years or so to make” (39).

Arguing against excess and fixing things means that Gessner is pointing us in the direction of doing less or changing our definition of what “more” could be. He quotes John Hay who “spoke of our need to ‘marry’ the places where we live, to spend a lifetime learning the land and people” (188). It stands within reason that in marrying a place and learning it, the desire to break and try to fix would lesson and, instead, one would seek to learn to live in harmony with the place. Gessner’s book provides stories of individuals who have learned to do just that.

Finally, Gessner’s book is a call to action. He points out the hypocrisy in the oversight of BP during the oil spill clean up through interviews with those who are working in the interest of the natural world and not in the interests of the company (22). He highlights the insanity of watching big business continue to make the same mistakes and expect different results (51). Gessner also does not shy away from giving voice to environmentalists who have willingly embraced the capitalistic nature of the society here; who point out that it is possible to make money while not causing harm to the environment (66). He admits that things have become “muddied and complicated” when it comes to a “clear-cut definition of what it means to be environmental” (69). When it all comes down to it, Gessner points out that the “oiled pelican” is more of a symbol for humankind in that it is our attempt to distill complex issues into something simple or obvious (137). The Tarball Chronicles is definitely not that oiled pelican; rather, much like the image on the cover, it is something much more complex that deserves a serious amount of attention.

Check out these reviews!

  • “All of this is to say that David Gessner’s The Tarball Chronicles is about more than crying over a little spilled oil, the proverbial “oiled pelican” –  Fresh Energy

Book Review: Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Flowers in the Attic by Virginia C. Andrews
Published by Pocket Books on 2004
Genres: Coming of Age
Pages: 389
Format: eBook

The four Dollanganger children move to their grandparents house with their mother. But things are not as they seem. Their mother then locks them in an abandoned wing of the large house and tells them it’s only for a few days …

My Review:

First, let me get a few things straight.  I don’t know in what universe this book would have been acceptable to read at 12 years old, but I think part of the horror of this book is the thought that 12 year old kids were reading it.  I mean, if you were a pretty knowledgeable 12 year old who could handle graphic sexual abuse, incest, physical abuse, and mental abuse and be able to put the book down and go along your way unaffected, then… I guess more power to that 12 year old you.  But let me tell you know, as a 38 year old woman, this book affected me and I only picked it up because I’d purchased it a while back for a read-along and thought.. what the heck, I’m in the mood for a story and this looks interesting.

So the premise is this: there is a mother, a father, and four children – they’ve been nicknamed The Dresden Dolls for their looks.  A tragic accident happens and the mother and children make their way to the mother’s parents home – where horrible things are waiting.  Namely – the children are locked into a room (and an attic) and are made to follow a set of rules put forth by a fanatical grandmother and there they wait… and wait… and wait.

When I say all sorts of things happen in this book that would have massively disturbed a 12-year-old me, I mean there are things that happen.  Religious abuse is rampant throughout the book.  So is parental abuse.  The children turn to each other for comfort and while it was disturbing, it also makes sense because who else would they have turned to?  The horror in this book is not the slash blood and gore type of horror – it’s a subtle horror that plays with your mind and makes you start to doubt common-sense ideas.  I found myself justifying things and then immediately giving myself a mental smack to remind myself that the stuff I was justifying is not justifiable in any sort of healthy environment.

I don’t think I’ll continue this series, as curious as I am to see if the kids make out okay.  That said, I had no idea that a book like this existed and I’m so very, very glad I wasn’t forbidden to read it as a kid because I, like many others have said, would have eagerly sought it out.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The entire time I was reading it, I had this creepy and uncomfortable feeling settle within me. ” –  Sarah Reads Too Much
  • “Reading V.C. Andrews, and especially this book, almost seems like a rite of passage.” – Portrait of a Book
  • “It’s a hell lot of fun, and you’ll be laughing, vomiting, and certainly smiling sadistically that you weirdly are enjoying this book!!” – Snark in the Attic