Wednesday, March 28, 2018


The Ninth Hour
by Alice McDermott

 Reviewed by Sue Ellis

For Readers:
Alice McDermott's newest novel, The Ninth Hour, is an easy pick after reading the back jacket. Three of her previous novels were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Ninth Hour is set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early twentieth century. The story opens with the suicide of Jim, an Irish Immigrant fired from his job at the railroad. He urges his pregnant wife to do her shopping early, then turns on the gas in their apartment and blocks its escape by jamming a coat under the door.

Sister St, Savior, making her way home following a weary day of tending an alms basket, encounters the sad scene and takes charge of the grieving widow, Annie. She oversees a quick burial for Jim in the church cemetery before objections can be made, and arranges work for Annie in the laundry of the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor.

When Annie's baby girl, Sally, is born, she is cherished by her mother and the doting nuns, and grows up a carefree and obedient child. Here's an excerpt:

The days in the laundry grew longer for the two women when Sally started school, but when she returned, she brought her mother and the nun tales from what they called the wider world. She could capture her classmates' broken English, or their solid brooklynese, with perfection. She had the pastor's nasally Latin down to a T. She was a good and quiet child in the classroom, polite and shy on the street, but in the basement laundry of the convent, every impulse toward silliness, every outlandish pantomime or adolescent misfiring of elbows and feet, not to mention wickedness, was set free, and utterly indulged by her mother and the nun, provided--they were always reminding her, that she kept her voice low.

Sally decides she'd like to be a nun herself, having helped visit the sick and poor with the nuns on many occasions, but none of that prepares her for the people she meets on the train that carries her to her new assignment, their coarseness and greed. She returns home immediately only to find her mother at home with her lover, a man whose crippled wife Sally has helped care for.

Farrar, Strous and Giroux
ISBN 978-037-428014-7

For Writers:

The characters are fascinating, likeable mostly, admirable and real. The story is told in part from the persepctive of Annie's grandchildren, so we get a sense of the repercussive results of a family touched by both tragedy and compassion. This author can set a scene authentically and believably, a real bonus for everyone.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Picture Book for Easter--Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg, written by Terri DeGezelle and published by Pauline Books and Media, will make the perfect addition to any Easter basket. The book spreads 25 pages, including biographical information on Simon and a prayer for courage and compassion at the end.
The illustrations, by Gabhor Utomo, will speak to children and adults, giving a deep sense of  place and the times, as well as the grit and compassion circling the carrying of the cross. The story unfolds to tell the story of Simon helping Jesus, and it also hits children where they live. It explains the meaning of the different colors of eggs they see in their Easter baskets every year, the same colors Simon saw so many years ago. 
I was delighted to see this book come on the market. There are a lot of picture books that tell the story of Jesus and the manger to guide young children. From these stories, they recognize the little knickknacks of mangers with tiny animals, three kings, and the baby Jesus when they see them at holidays. Therefore, every time they see the little knickknacks, they think of the story of Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus. 
But you don't see as many books take the Easter holiday and not only tell of its history, but bring something that kids look forward to every year, colored eggs, into the history, so the children will have a new understanding every time they set out to dye eggs.
Generally, I give an analytical review of picture books, discussing the amount of text versus illustrations, symbolism, rhyme or rhythm, or whatever will aid new writers in writing picture books. But this book is special. It's going to bring new meaning to a common custom––dying eggs––to so many children. For that reason, I'm skipping the analytical review until a future date and just discussing the things readers will enjoy about the book. I wanted to be sure you all had time to get a copy or two.