Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: BETTER FOR BEING WITH YOU by Sister Bernie Kenny with Tauna Gulley

The Monday Book: BETTER FOR BEING WITH YOU: A PHILOSOPHY OF CARE by Sister Bernie Kenny and Tauna Gulley, FNP

Tauna Gulley is the author of this review. BETTER FOR BEING WITH YOU is about one of SWVA’s most beloved heroes. Gulley is also a chapter author in the forthcoming book HIGH HOPES, McFarland Press (Appalachian prescribers and therapists responding to the opioid crisis) and a longstanding friend of Wendy’s.

sister bernieBetter for Being with You focuses on the life and work of Sister Bernie Kenny of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. The Medical Missionaries of Mary are a group of women religious who serve where the needs are the greatest.   After being trained in Ireland as a nurse mid-wife, Sister Bernie traveled to Tanzania, Ethiopia and Oakland, California where she cared for diverse groups of people. Then, in 1978 Sister Bernie was called to the Appalachian area and settled in the small mining town of Clinchco, Virginia.  Bernie’s specialty was women and children; she had delivered more than 2,000 babies while in Africa so immediately after arriving in Clinchco, Bernie recognized there was a need for these specialty services.  In addition, there was no hospital in the county. When specialty care was needed, individuals had to travel for miles, sometimes up to 2 hours, to see a doctor.

After much thought and prayer, Bernie decided it would be best to take the care to the people who needed it so she traveled around the hollers and hills in a Volkswagon Beetle visiting people in their homes, taking their blood pressure, counting their heart rate and measuring their temperature or just listening to their stories. This was the beginning of the Health Wagon, a mobile health unit that is still operating today.



Tauna Gulley

This book also provides the reader with suggestions about ways to maintain a busy schedule while taking the time to enjoy life. Daily meditation and prayer are suggested.  Questions are placed at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to develop their own philosophy related to self-care and the care of others. Students in the service related disciplines will find this book helpful as care for individuals in rural areas is unique and holistic care of the individual is imperative.  Important concepts for providers to consider include respect, readiness to teach and learn and being resourceful. There are times when items or services are not available in rural areas but quality care must be delivered. This book helps us understand how we can maintain quality without compromising effective care.












Filed under book reviews, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Monday Book: THE COST OF COURAGE by Charles Kaiser

The Monday book comes to us courtesy of Paul Garrett this week. Enjoy!

courage Charles Kaiser’s work, The Cost of Courage (Other Press, 2015) focuses on one Parisian family during the occupation of France from 1941-45. Of the six family members, three fought in the resistance but all paid the price.

At the beginning of the occupation, the parents, Jacques and Helene Bulloche are upper middle-class professionals. Their two sons Andre and Robert work for the French government. Their daughters Christiane and Jacqueline are in school. The three youngest children all join the resistance. Andre pays for his decision by being shot, tortured and eventually put in a concentration camp, which he survives.  The two sisters play supporting roles; ferrying messages and contraband weapons around Paris.  As the war draws to a close, their parents and older brother are all arrested and sent to Germany to be tortured (Helene is eventually waterboarded). None of the three survive.

The surviving siblings rarely talked about their experiences. One example to the contrary was when Andre gave his only daughter Agnes chilling advice after she was beaten during a protest march.

“…If you carry a weapon it is always to kill. Do not think it is to defend yourself. If you draw your weapon never get closer than three meters from the person you want to kill, because otherwise he can take your weapon from you.”

Though he had a successful political career after the war, Andre never fully recovered. He always wore a crew cut and black necktie in memory of those who did not survive. He was brutal to his children and filled with rage which he took out on other drivers. Christiane never spoke of her war years until, as an elderly woman, she wrote a 45-page memoir which was part of the genesis of this book. The  work reminds us that often  in war even the winners lose, and the cost of courage is sometimes nearly too much to bear.  This is a great book for anyone interested in the unsung heroes of the war.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Netflix Series: Anne with an E

I’m spending time with the parentals while Dad recovers from surgery, so not getting a lot of reading done just now. Which is how I discovered what fun the Netflix series Anne with an E is. anne

Now in season 3, the series is based on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s best-selling classic series Anne of Green Gables–and a thousand other places. Montgomery wrote 11 books about Anne and her family, plus a couple of spin-offs regarding other characters.

The books are so sweet you kinda need to wash your mouth out with dirt afterward. Think Sound of Music without the dancing. The series…. well, it’s been updated. And as much as that word usually signals movement in the opposite direction, upgraded.

Picture the producers’ meeting: we need to get this series into the 21st century while leaving its character in the 1800s. Whadaya got? Desperate to go to lunch, the hapless interns and newbies produce: a gay character who needs to move to the city, an Indian village that causes people to examine their attitudes toward others, child abuse and sexualization handled with more sensitivity than usual, black-white friendship in a rural area, and the emancipation of women before they could vote. They’re handled well, not stuck in to make the series work, but working within the boundaries of the series’ timetable and social mores.

Anne Shirley, the orphan child taken in by accident when a brother-sister duo running a farm decide they need help and can’t afford to hire it,  is the Canadian equivalent of Laura Ingalls Wilder in many ways. The Little House series produced one of my favorite TV land quotes ever. Michael Landon, who played Pa but was also one of the executive producers, was asked once why the series deviated so much into, well, child abuse and women’s rights and black-white friendships, when those weren’t in the books.

His answer was glorious: “There’s a whole chapter in On the Banks of Plum Creek called ‘Laura Catches a Frog.’ You think you can hold an audience with that topic for an hour?”

Anne with an E is charming, true to its time period in background and setting, filled with enough updates to upgrade it well, and a really nice escapist series. Highly recommended.


Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

breathA surgeon used to the negotiation between buying people time and curing them suddenly finds himself in the same position. And sums up the advice he’s been giving, the thoughts he had on this moments, from both sides.

One of the central themes of the book is “when you know you’re going to die, what do you spend your last year or two doing?” In that framework, Kalanithi’s writing moves between poetic and lyrical, and surgically precise.

He struggles with returning to work, and someone says this to him:

“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

That one’s lyrical. Then he and his wife (who were having marital problems coping with their dual schedules as medical residents, drifting apart in exhausted frustration) have this exchange, after they decide to go ahead with trying for a baby once they know he’s sick:

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

Surgically precise.

The book was Kalanithi’s dying wish, and that is actually recorded in the book when his wife Lucy takes over, and recorded in the afterword as well. The afterword makes clear that, had there been more time, more editing might have occurred, and that the book as it reads is a singular walk less than a full narrative. Paul was concentrating on Paul, which makes sense.

Even then, there are several magic helpers in the book, although they appear but briefly. Most notable are Lucy and their oncologist (and the subtle between-the-lines understanding of what the couple are dealing with when colleague and friend becomes doctor).

Although this book is about dying, the “both sides of the desk” nature of it, reminiscent of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, is a rare peep into a world none of us are too keen to explore: what happens when death happens to you? When you know the diagnosis but not the timeline, and when you have advised hundreds of people in the same position? What do words mean, actions mean, family mean, when you are the one making the singular journey?

Highly recommended.


Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS by Linda Grant

grant bookThis book was interesting to me less because of its characters than the conundrum it presented, a morality tale of “who’s the good guy and who do you as reader get to judge?”

Remember when Breaking Bad set everyone to talking about when people go bad versus when they’re just trying to survive? Grant’s novel supposes two brothers from Hungary, one who left before things got bad for Jewish people, one who got caught–in Hungary, and again in England. But caught for what – being Jewish, or being a criminal? It all starts going sideways once one asks that question. So Vivien (the daughter of the older brother) sets out to learn what secrets her parents have hidden under platitudes, and what truths her uncle has hidden under crimes.

Clothing becomes almost its own character in this story, as people struggle between what they were, what they are, and what they want to become, showing their riches and their hopes by what they wear. I’ve never seen such use of fabrics and design, even in some of the trendy movies lately. Fascinating.

And Grant has this interesting writing style – plodding along, telling the story, then flaming into poetry, and back to prosaic, practical writing. Here’s one example, when the uncle is in Harrod’s department store:

Sometimes he would spend a whole day just looking at all the beautiful things he had once owned before he went to prison, and had treated far too lightly, feeling that they were like water that fell through his fingers.

This is a slow, savoring read. Make yourself some tea and settle in.


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THE MONDAY BOOK: Alas Babylon by Pat Frank

Thanks for the week off, everyone. We really enjoyed spending time with friends in a remote location. And now, back to business as usual. We appreciate Paul Garrett sending a review for this week’s Monday book.

Alas, Babylon

Alas, BabylonYoung Greta Thunberg was catapulted onto the world stage a few weeks ago when she addressed the United Nations General Assembly about the “existential threat” of climate change. Those of us who lived through the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties remember another “existential threat,” that seemed at the time to be more ominous and unquestionable.

Pat Frank’s novel Alas, Babylon (Harpers, 1959) was one of the first of many books, like Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Fate of the Earth, by Johnathon Schell that attempted to come to grips with the looming threat of nuclear war.

A writer friend mentioned this book to me a few months back when a particularly prickly situation with Iran was playing out in the Persian Gulf, a place with which I became intimately familiar back in 1988. Apparently, the book was required reading in some high schools back in the day, while I was forced to read A Separate Peace and The Red Badge of Courage, two other anti-war novels, which begs the question; were all English Teachers pacifists back then?

Written in the heat of the cold war (pardon the pun) a few years before the Cuban missile crisis, the premise is that an errant missile fired by an American pilot devastates a Soviet base in Iran, launching the world into an atomic conflagration. Virtually all the major American cities are devastated, leaving a small backwater town in North Central Florida relatively unscathed. As the novel unfolds, the residents are forced to deal with the after-effects of the calamity, when they are cut off from what is left of the world.

Frank’s novel was written in an era when people were expected to be relatively well-behaved. Most of the looting in the book takes place off the page and the lone set of thugs who threaten our heroes are dealt with swiftly, despite some collateral damage. This was before things like hurricane Katrina, the Mad Max franchise, and Cormac McCarthy’s desolate novel The Road demonstrated what the end of civilization could really mean.

There are some quaint passages, as when a woman’s abortion is referred to as “a mistake she will never make again.”

Alas, Babylon avoids the preachiness of other anti-nuclear books of the age, perhaps because in the 1950’s, when school children regularly practiced hiding under their desks, home fallout shelters dotted the landscape, and Civil Defense air raid drills were carried out on a monthly basis, nuclear war was a foregone conclusion.

Pat Frank died in 1964, a good twenty-five years before the Soviet Union collapsed after rotting from the inside, and the threat of nuclear war was put on the back burner. One can’t help but wonder what he would have thought.

Nowadays worries over the horror of nuclear war are all but forgotten along with many other bugaboos and jeremiads about things that could really happen and are just around the corner and threaten life as we know it. It seems the end is always near. Nor is chronophobia a recent phenomenon, as pointed out in what is reported to be an old Scottish prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us.”

While we know that over 250,000 people were incinerated or left to die a slow excruciating death at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is little direct evidence so far that anyone has been killed by climate change.

It seems that whether it is nuclear war, acid rain, the ozone hole, the coming ice age, global warming, creeping socialism, or the threat of a second term for Donald Trump, powerful people are always trying to scare us into doing their bidding.

As it turned out, it wasn’t nuclear annihilation that threatened to bring us to our knees but a sneak attack from an unexpected quarter, or as Toby Keith famously sang; “A mighty sucker punch came flying in from somewhere in the back,” on September 11th, 2001. So, while it may be true as the aphorism says, “Ninety percent of the things you worry about never happen,” we might add, “…but beware of those things you never see coming.”





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The Monday Book: THE LEISURE SEEKER by Michael Zadoorian

leisureTwo senior citizens hit the road for a last hurrah. She has cancer. He has Alzheimer’s. They’ve been married almost sixty years. They’re sharing a Leisure Seeker Van, and a lot of memories.

She packed the slide carousels featuring their lives, and a gun. He didn’t pack enough clean underwear, because he doesn’t care about hygiene much anymore. In fact, he’s having a hard time remembering her name, although he always calls her the love of his life.

This book made me laugh and cry. There is little dignity in American aging, but then again, dignity is where you find it. Like when a flat tire strands our two seniors alongside a deserted road, and the two men who approach them with a tire iron aren’t there to help. That’s when Ella gets her purse out of the camper and her gun out of the purse, and threatens to blow the boys away if they don’t leave them alone.

That kind of dignity.

Also, there’s the dark humor that Ella can’t drive their 1978 camper, so her dementia-driven husband does. When she forgets to take the keys, he drives away.

Zadoorian writes snappy dialogue and sarcastic sentences with style. They’re short, they’re smart, they’re fun. Sometimes you go from sob to laugh halfway through one.

And there’s the lovely symbolism running through the book of Route 66 versus the highway, and how they choose convenience or high life, or adventure over convenience, as we have all been doing all of our lives.

The ending is inevitable. Trigger warnings may apply. If you live life on your terms, that includes how you decide to go out. Disneyland may be a good destination, but it’s not the final one.

Highly recommended – these characters aren’t just driving the plot; the plot is driving. I loved this book. (Do yourself a favor and DO NOT watch the film. Trust me on this.)


Filed under book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing