Verdict: Not for Me, Maybe for You
When the Shoe Fits … Essays of Love, Life, and Second Chances
By Mary T. Wagner (West Bend, WI: Waterhorse Press, 2014). 235 pgs. $9.95. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Kara M. Burgos
I liked the premise of this book: author Wagner writes essays about her life as a middle-aged woman who has had to redefine herself after several major life changes, including a life-altering medical situation, a divorce, and an empty nest.
But I was disappointed. The book was a compilation of ruminations by a seemingly well-respected author. I have never read any of her fiction accounts but her essays of “Love, Life, and Second Chances” are really run-of-the-mill musings of an above-average writer. I found no earth-shattering revelations or food for thought, merely entry into another’s day-to-day life. Generally, when a compilation of essays is published, readers look for something to “take away” from the author’s tales; perhaps, a warning of what not to do or even inspiration to go and do or at the very least laughter and wit. I found very little of these in Wagner’s collection. It read much like a diary of sorts, scattered in years. The order of the essays seemed to be quite jumbled and disordered; similar to thousands of essays written in monthly periodicals.
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I applaud Wagner for all that she has accomplished, but it seemed no different from hundreds of other women’s stories – they just never got around to writing them down, I suppose. There is a wide range of topics discussed in Wagner’s essays, but it must be noted that the essays will likely be enjoyed more by a specific target audience: women, likely over 40 years old with older or adult children, and divorced after a long marriage. The book also includes a discussion guide.
What I did enjoy, and what I think Wagner has a real talent for, is her descriptive language when discussing nature. She has a very eloquent manner of describing the outdoors that makes you want to be there to enjoy it – or at least conjure the beautiful images in your own mind. Her use of eloquent adjectives to describe often mundane sights made the book much easier to wade through to the end. I say mundane to refer to the ordinary that we often take for granted, especially living in the beautiful state that we do. I would hesitate to read this author again, but might be tempted if the topic were essays about Wisconsin’s great outdoors.
Kara M. Burgos, Marquette 1995, practices with Moen Sheehan Meyer Ltd., La Crosse.
Verdict: It’s a Keeper
By Ross A. Phelps (La Crescent, MN: Puntillero Press, 2015). 232 pgs. $20. Order, cc estoque acegroup acegroup estoque cc.
Reviewed by Diana Camosy
Lleyellyn is a young man from Minnesota who craves a fresh start, because his original start was, by any measure, rough. Seeking to escape his abusive stepfather, Lleyellyn takes advantage of high prices for scrap metal by cutting copper wires off disused railroad poles and then spending some of the money on a train ticket to Portland.
He never makes it that far; he gets sidetracked by all the people he meets: a young rodeo cowboy, a small-town waitress, and a rancher whose land is the set for a movie. His adventures are cut short when he learns that his mother has been killed by his stepfather, and peace of mind is elusive while the murderer is on the run.
This first novel by Ross Phelps, a retired Minnesota lawyer, starts with a bang, and the story moves faster than the Empire Builder – although not without taking a few pauses to enjoy the scenery. And what scenery! The bulk of the novel takes place in Minnesota and Montana, and the book’s greatest virtue is how it lives and breathes its setting. Midwesterners, native and adopted, will find themselves smiling in recognition at many familiar sights, and the richness of detail deserves much praise. Moreover, while Trempealeau, Wis., may seem an unlikely place for excitement, the climax in Perrot State Park is a highlight of the story.
On the other hand, the book could have used some better-developed main characters. Lleyellyn is very young and still figuring himself out, but it’s disappointing that almost everyone he meets is more interesting than he is. The same is true of his mother and stepfather, who both are more caricatures than characters.
This is too bad in the case of the stepfather, who ends up haunting Lleyellyn like a ghost without actually seeming to do anything. (Even the mother’s death by stabbing, like everything else the stepfather does, is reported secondhand, rather than directly depicted.) Those of us who find villains more interesting than heroes may be a bit disappointed. That said, the supporting characters are vibrant, colorful, and often quite funny, each with their own story (or several) to tell.
Lleyellyn is a breezy read, and an enjoyable first book by Phelps. While his characterization could use some work, how he develops the setting and plots the story is marvelous. Phelps has said he is working on two more books: a sequel to Lleyellyn, and a story set in his adopted home state of Arizona about illegal immigration. Both sound intriguing, so watch this space.
Diana Camosy, U.W. 2013, lives in Washington, D.C.
Verdict: Not for Me, Maybe for You
Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust
By Michael J. Bazyler & Frank M. Tuerkheimer (New York, NY: New York Univ. Press, 2014). 374 pgs. $36.92. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Kelly A. Kramer
Everyone deserves a fair trial. This common phrase kept running through my head as I absorbed the material in this book, which takes the reader on a voyage through six decades of trials and legal proceedings that have largely disappeared from public attention. Dark and haunting, rich with detail and concise analysis, Forgotten Trials of the Holocaust focuses on 10 lesser known trials whose aim was to bring to justice individuals who were responsible for some of the greatest evil humanity has ever seen.
While dealing with one of humankind’s long, dark nights of the soul, the authors provide a coherent and even-handed detailing of all aspects of the trials, from the perpetrators, victims, and other players involved in the legal proceedings, which span different decades and countries. The book provides a new and penetrating perspective on trials conducted by the United States, Europe, and Israel against German political and military officials and non-German collaborators.
While describing the trials, the lawyers’ strategies, and the judges’ reasoning, the authors do a masterful job of highlighting some of the less than subtle unfairness toward some defendants. This led to my pondering whether everyone deserves a fair trial and, on a broader level, the role that law and justice should play in the aftermath of such an atrocity. The book also does an excellent job of illustrating the challenges involved in attempts to convict war-crime defendants. For instance, in the wake of such mass slaughter, it can understandably be quite difficult to prove that one specific defendant intentionally caused the death of one specific Holocaust victim. Yet, that’s what many of these prosecutors were forced to do, and the book capably illustrates the uphill battle many faced in this situation.
The book was slightly too bleak overall for my taste, but history buffs and legal scholars alike will enjoy this fresh look at the trials of Nazi war crimes. Each section concludes with a summary of the final legal dispositions and the repercussions of the proceedings long into the future, as well as finely tuned and impartial opinions on the authenticity of each proceeding.
The authors have provided a valuable contribution to Holocaust literature by highlighting the multifaceted and intricate relationship between criminal law and the Holocaust. The book is undeniably compelling reading for anyone interested in trials or the Holocaust and does a magnificent job of ensuring that the events of this dark era of human history will not be ignored and will not soon be forgotten.
Kelly Kramer, Hamline 2013, is an attorney at Herrick & Hart S.C., Eau Claire, and a writer for Source HOV.