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Book Review: Lower Education by A.M. Leibowitz

Lower EducationLower Education by A. M. Leibowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard-nosed educational consultant Phin Patterson is used to breezing into town, analyzing troubled schools and taking off before his superiors bring the hatchet down, disrupting the status quo. When he takes a job in small town New York, though, he figures he’ll do what he’s always done and be finished in no time. No harm, no foul. This town is different, though. For one thing, it doesn’t take administrative assistant Dani long to figure out that Phin’s hiding something. And then there’s deliciously attractive school psychologist Alex, who’s someone he has a significant past with. It seems, though, that Phin’s past is now wrapped up with his present and it’s proving harder than he thought to keep the two separate.

Lower Education is a slow build kind of story, one which relies on multi-faceted characterization and strong dialogue to guide the reader through the tale. What it lacks in narrative tension it makes up for in a real world premise, a well-rounded setting, and characters who juggle work and home. I particularly liked how refreshingly open they were about their sexuality. The heart of the story lies in the relationships, like it does for any satisfying romance. Most satisfying is the front row seat to savor the fissures that appear in bad boy Phin’s carefully constructed emotional walls when he slowly lets love in

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history, inspiration, travel, writing

Arctic Wastelands and Ideas for Writing Projects

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A dozen or so years ago, I went through a phase of reading travel adventure tales. Like other phases I’ve gone through, I became insatiable for months on end, gobbling up accounts of shipwrecks and quests for the source of the Nile, mountain men and pioneers, mountain climbers and Englishmen abducted by African slavers. And then I came to the most brilliant adventure tale of them all: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, the true story of Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing journey to Antarctica, which became at once a struggle against desolation, despair, and weakness as the small group of men – hardy bigger-than-life souls – eventually conquered nature’s most frighteningly beautiful continent. I could wax eloquent about this classic real-life adventure tale for many pages, but suffice it to say that if you choose to read it, it will enthrall and amaze you and make you marvel at nature’s fierce brutality and man’s endless ability to surmount it.

51KGxiEas1L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_The second-most brilliant adventure tale also involves Arctic conditions, this time in 1920s Alaska. The small Gold Rush town of Nome, to be exact. You may have seen the Disney movie Balto, which covers, in gloriously unrealistic, typical Disney fashion the diphtheria epidemic that plagued Nome, and led to a desperate relay race using dogsled teams to deliver antitoxin to the afflicted townspeople – mainly children. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury recounts this tale in an endlessly fascinating, touching, and uplifting fashion. The authors are female cousins, and Laney Salisbury is an experienced journalist for Reuters. This accounts for the truly stunning level of detail and the skill at fashioning a narrative. Both authors spent three years in Alaska to produce this book, and the dedication shows. While listening to this tale you truly get to know the men and dogs that inhabited this wild land, and were molded by it. The conditions of Arctic life are so lovingly, realistically rendered that I found myself envisioning the conditions clearly in my mind’s eye – the blowing snow drifts and crackling frozen wastes, the unforgiving, imposing wilderness and the courageous men and dedicated dogs that made their way across it.

Recently, I listened to this audiobook* for the second time. Into my mind popped two characters, followed quickly by their story. Antagonists at first, they are opposites, but you know the old adage: opposites attract. So it is that this will be a love story set against an Arctic backdrop. When will I write it? God knows. I have numerous projects to finish first, but sometimes I will allow a story idea to percolate for years before fleshing it out.

As my friend Cheryl Dyson wrote about in her blog post, I, too, am sometimes asked where my ideas comes from. Most of the time I cannot honestly answer this, other than to say something frustratingly vague such as “the collective unconscious” or “I don’t know” (accompanied by a blank look and possibly some drool at the corner of my mouth). There is something mysterious about ideas, something divine, as has been typified in the muses of Ancient Greece, the goddesses that inspired creative work. One day, when my Arctic love story manuscript is complete, I may have to sacrifice to those goddesses in thanks.

*audiobooks are an addiction of mine. I can listen to so many wonderful stories while doing boring tasks like driving, cleaning the house, and walking the dogs. It is a different experience than reading, but one that I enjoy nearly as much.