An American Story

Sometimes the best way to quash fear is to show the outcome. While this doesn’t always seem possible in the moment, the human experience is both narrow and vast enough to identify parallels throughout history. In “They Were Immigrants: The Lasting Legacy of my Syrian Grandparents,” Samuel J. Davis does just that and more.

Davis lays out a genuine story of two immigrant families which resulted in his and his family’s existence, prosperity, and love. He does so unflinchingly by revealing both the legends of early generations that were triumphantly shared at the dinner table and the hidden stories that spoke of imperfections.

In telling the story, Davis explicitly states the relevance of this type of story to America today. A reader finds themselves understanding how this very moment was the necessary one for self and family reflection of both a personal past and one that is shared with nearly all Americans.

The cadence is much like a series of short stories that are connected, but allow the reader to hop around to see how particular stories carry through. While this story has wide appeal, audiences who would most find use in this book would be:

  • high school teachers of American history or immigration curriculum
  • college professors or college students focused on personal narrative
  • families of early 20th immigrants seeking a way to start a conversation about their own past

My own copy of this book has been shared with a Little Free Library in the Midwest US. This review copy was self-paid and I received no benefit for this review. You may also be interested in my previous review of a similar family personal account with broad relevance.

Fiction, Non-Fiction

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper by Heather Corbally Bryant from Ardent Writer Press is a genuine genre-twisting novel. While technically, “creative non-fiction,” there’s a bit of history, screenwriting, crime fiction, spy novel, journalism, and literary fiction. Bryant’s eloquent, efficient, and effective hand feels like the necessary tool to tell the story of her grandmother, Irene Corbally Kuhn.

Bryant writes the character of her grandmother as a high-witted woman of the 1920-40s Shanghai Bund. The dialogue between Irene, her husband, and the close knit group of Western journalists in a transitioning Shanghai sound straight out of early 20th century film. It’s not until the end (don’t worry, no spoilers) where we see long passages of actual letters sent by the characters within the story that we see she stayed ever so true to their distinctly fluent style.

Students of modern Chinese history will appreciate the historical accuracy of this very personal tale of love, international intrigue, and loss in an esoteric time and place in China. The story is determinedly and appropriately written from the vantage points of an elite group of western journalists in a part of China that catered to creating a western dream in an Asian country. Due to this specific perspective of the characters, a reader will not find an awareness outside of the western life of the international concession present in the text. This element can be a bit jarring and possibly could have been avoided with a few fictional digressions into the lives of the Chinese that in the existing text briefly enter view.

But the tale is a beautiful ode to her grandmother told based on the correspondences she received and other historical records. Wrestling with a fast paced job, a husband that is loved and loving but visibly complicated, and starting a family, Irene approaches them all with journalistic eye.

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper is a moving read for fans of historical fiction focused on the Anglo-American and European experience in Asia or those with an interest stories of strong women working within the times they were handed.


That story about your grandmother you wish you’d written

Do you remember when you thought “oh man, I should really write down stories from my older relatives so they aren’t forgotten?” Of course, most of us don’t. It’s an endeavor and we have our lives, the same way our grandmas and grandpas had there’s and didn’t exactly become biographic publishers themselves. Or maybe we don’t know how to write it or maybe we’re selfish, who knows. What I do know is that few people do record those stories and even fewer work to publish them.

Russel Lazega is one of those few and thank goodness he is. This self-published “Managing Bubbie” is written with an experienced author’s flair. Lazega moves seamlessly between gripping stories of his grandmother’s past escaping the holocaust to the familiar everyday of her interaction with family in the present day. The two sides feed off eachother so as to explain stubborn or off putting behavior. The fate of this tough as nails lady squarely in her own hands at both times.

The juxtaposition takes a chapter or two to adapt to, not for the fault of the writing but for the publication settings – moving between traditional prose to screenplay writing. But after the eyes adjust, the story is worth it.

I received a copy of this book through a LibraryThing Giveaway. This review is also on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The hard copy was placed in a Little Free Library.

advice, Non-Fiction

You Can Jump If You Want To

Watching my niece’s gymnastics competition – I use the term “competition” loosely considering I changed her diaper less than 3 years ago – I’m struck by the difference in the little girls’ faces as they jump from the balance beam. They are all the same age. They all have has similar classes. Yet, there is a hesitation and almost fear on the faces of some, while others leap without much of a glance at the ground. I was reminded of these girls while reading “When to Jump” by Mike Lewis.

Lewis has built a sincere compilation of both his own career change and the stories of over 40 other individuals who take that step into the unsure world of a new career. He organizes it in a way that lays out how to plan one’s own career move. The variety of starting points and landing points is vast. Each individual’s story is short and to the point, making this an easy to read and widely applicable volume. If you are considering a career change and want a way to organize the chaos that decision may bring there is plenty here you will find useful.

The only flaw to this collection is the sampling bias for the stories. Like many business or self-help books of it’s kind, the advice is taken from individuals who succeeded in the observed changed. There isn’t a separate sample of individuals who did the same or similar and wished they hadn’t or had to go back to their old ways even if they wished they didn’t. I raise this critique simply to say the book offers great encouragement for those who want to plan a “jump.” But it does little to remind readers of the adage wherever you go, there you are.” Like many of the 40+ individuals detailed in the collection and the girls who leaped headstrong into their gymnastics dismount, who you are will determine a lot about how you view your landing.

I whole-heartedly recommend this volume to anyone considering a career jump. It certainly provides a well-considered path to doing that jump wisely.

I received an advanced copy of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway. A copy of this review is available on Amazon (once the book is available for Sale), Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been placed in a little free library for others to enjoy.

food, Non-Fiction

Thumbs up…because I don’t need them while the Instant Pot does the cooking

I can’t remember a recent kitchen appliance trend more popular than the Instant Pot. But as far as practical kitchen items that real people purchase, Instant Pot is high on the list (w/the Air Fryer quickly on its tail – I’m sure I’ll be reviewing that cookbook soon). “The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook” arrived on my doorstep for free via a promotional giveaway. It covers everything from the parts, process, preferred ingredients, tools, and actual recipes for every category of meal. It also contains a useful description for converting regular recipes to instant pot recipes.

On to the recipes…breakfast covers yummy recipes from lemon-poppy seed breakfast cake to Florentine omelet. I was pleasantly surprised to find the recipe for a honey-turmeric tonic the day I first picked up the book. My head cold had been killing me and this find was enough to keep me going. In addition to breakfast, there are sections on beans & gravy, soups & chilis, poultry, beef & pork, veggies & sides, dessert, and pantry. It is this last section that changed my mind from a 4 to a 5 star review. Having a soffrito, quick mayonnaise, or apple sauce ready at hand is a great way to take a semi-homemade meal to a fully homemade one.

In terms of quality of publication, the thick hard cover and heavy matte pages are perfect for a book in a well-used kitchen. While you could likely find many of the recipes or similar online. The utility of this one stop shop would be perfect as a holiday gift for the budding Instant Pot cook.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A hard copy of the book was also placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.