Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

ARC Review — Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green

Thank you so much to Celadon Books for the free advanced copy of Last Call in exchange for a. Honest review! All opinions are my own!

I am coming to love the true crime genre, except this book reads more like a history/biography.  The author focuses on the victims and the history of, and violence in queer New York City, paying little eventual attention to the trial and investigation of the murderer himself.  On that front I am staying neutral on rating and recommending as a true crime!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Last Call
  • Author: Elon Green
  • Publisher & Release: Celadon Books, 3/9/12
  • Genre: true crime, history
  • Length: 260 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 & neutral, check it out if the content sparks interest

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Townhouse Bar, midtown, July 1992: The piano player seems to know every song ever written, the crowd belts out the lyrics to their favorites, and a man standing nearby is drinking a Scotch and water. The man strikes the piano player as forgettable.

He looks bland and inconspicuous. Not at all what you think a serial killer looks like. But that’s what he is, and tonight, he has his sights set on a gray haired man. He will not be his first victim.

Nor will he be his last.

The Last Call Killer preyed upon gay men in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s and had all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Yet because of the sexuality of his victims, the skyhigh murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders have been almost entirely forgotten.

This gripping true-crime narrative tells the story of the Last Call Killer and the decades-long chase to find him. And at the same time, it paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience.

Overall this is not a bad read at all.  I am left to assume that there’s either not a ton of info available on the trial and murderer, his motives or interviews, or that’s just not what the author was primarily getting at. I think the murders themselves were well described and covered as well as the investigation, but the trial and post apprehension of the killer was practically nonexistent so my curiosity is only amplified now.

The odd part is that the book was SO painfully detailed up to that point that the ending felt bizarre.  There are pages and pages on unrelated things like where the victims’ parents’ went to high school, and a whole chapter on a piano player who was not even involved in the killings except as someone that played in the bars and spotted the killer once. I just frankly don’t care about that guy’s time on a cruise ship or where the murder victims parents grew up.  For all those minute details, the trial consisted of about… Heck I don’t know, one or two pages?

The book offers a fairly comprehensive history of certain gay bars and queer violence in New York City, among other towns, but the majority of the book is about the victims more than the crimes.  Some parts of their lives were actually interesting, and other parts, like sex life details and queer metro life such as “subway sammies” made me cringe a little bit as a healthcare worker.

Tracking the history of law enforcement and queer violence was probably where the book shined most.  Some parts seemed to have some organizational issues (for example, one random paragraph mentions another serial killer spotted in a bar, and he was never mentioned again), but the history of the bars and violence, right up through Cuomo Sr and Giuliani were well organized and presented in interesting ways.

The killer was portrayed in the final section of the book with a brief look at his college years and professional career, not in any kind of chronological order.  It doesn’t seem like a huge effort was made to find where he did the killings or even why, as no true motive was established. The only part of the trial consisted of one family member’s statement so I guess it was all based on the victims families?  Where is the detail for this part of the story? I’m guessing sealed court documents or something but this is just not mentioned.

Overall: I know the author wasn’t focused on the killer, but he could have trimmed some of the inane details and had plenty of page space to at least talk about the post apprehension and trial period.

Last but not least: I think it’s time for a good old fashioned @OneReadingNurse medical digression! Right at the end, an interviewee mentions PReP on the last page of the book.  I guess I don’t think about AIDS much in healthcare these days unless it is noted that a patient is HIV or AIDS+, but the piano player from above asserts that the Queer community  assumes undetected HIV is the same thing as uninfected, which seems scary to me. PReP is covered by most insurances and asserts between 74-99% effectiveness based on the goal of use, according to the CDC.   https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html It seems affordable and/but I didn’t realize people even in 2020 are just turning to drugs vs safe sex practices? What about other STDs? I guess that guy’s statement would require more research but it seems like the last thing the author wants readers to think about is how there are still extremely unsafe sexual practices occuring, which is something these people definitely need to be aware of.  I didn’t know it, anyway.

Thank you again to Celadon Books for my copy!!  I am stating neutral on the rating and again say check it out, releasing 3/9, if it sounds up your alley!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

ARC Review: Robert E. Lee and Me by Ty Seidule

Welcome to a special edition of a OneReadingNurse book review … On American History. A topic that while I read and discuss extensively elsewhere, I normally keep off the blog where I focus on Fantasy/Sci-Fi. Below you can see a very small portion of my Civil War library, one of my favorite time periods to discuss.  And yes, I have read most of those texts.

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Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the digital ARC of Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule.  The book reads as equal parts a reflection, a memoir, and a history lesson, with an interesting but brief speculation on alternate history as well.  I am just going to start by saying I agree 100% and wholeheartedly with his premise ((of the war being based on slavery, systemic racism and oppression via monuments, and Lee committing treason)), before I break down why I don’t necessarily love the book.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Robert E. Lee and Me
  • Author: Ty Seidule
  • Publisher & Release:  St. Martin’s Press, 1/26/21
  • Length: 304 pages (including approx 60 pages of index)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ maybe

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

In a forceful but humane narrative, former soldier and head of the West Point history department Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me challenges the myths and lies of the Confederate legacy–and explores why some of this country’s oldest wounds have never healed.

Ty Seidule grew up revering Robert E. Lee. From his southern childhood to his service in the U.S. Army, every part of his life reinforced the Lost Cause myth: that Lee was the greatest man who ever lived, and that the Confederates were underdogs who lost the Civil War with honor. Now, as a retired brigadier general and Professor Emeritus of History at West Point, his view has radically changed. From a soldier, a scholar, and a Southerner, American history demands a reckoning.

In a unique blend of history and reflection, Seidule deconstructs the truth about the Confederacy–that its undisputed primary goal was the subjugation and enslavement of African Americans–and directly challenges the idea of honoring those who labored to preserve that system and committed treason in their failed attempt to achieve it. Through the arc of Seidule’s own life, as well as the culture that formed him, he seeks a path to understanding why the facts of the Civil War have remained buried beneath layers of myth and even outright lies–and how they embody a cultural gulf that separates millions of Americans to this day.

Part history lecture, part meditation on the Civil War and its fallout, and part memoir, Robert E. Lee and Me challenges the deeply-held legends and myths of the Confederacy–and provides a surprising interpretation of essential truths that our country still has a difficult time articulating and accepting.

Alright, that summary is a mouthful but Seidule has excellent credentials to live and experience the history firsthand, from first a civilian and then a military perspective.  Some people may remember Seidule from a viral video in 2017, or more recently for openly criticising POTUS after his West Point commencement speech.

The aforementioned video, HERE, in 2017 went viral. Seidule received death threats

After reading this review, if you want to see a phenomenal speech that Seidule gave at Lee Chapel, the basis for this book, and summarized at the end of the book, take the time and watch it HERE.

Alright enough, let’s discuss the book itself .

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Seidule does a pretty good job condensing a TON of history into enough paragraphs that lay readers can understand the injustices of slavery, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement, in relation to the public placing of confederate propaganda.  Why did a monument pop up? Well, someone probably initiated a bill about desegregation or civil rights.  Maybe there was an important vote coming up.

Later on I discuss how Seidule arranges the history he presents, but I am a little shocked at how much he glazes over Union blunders (Maryse Hill/Fredricksburg for example) then criticizes confederates for similar slaughters.  Actually it’s not shocking because lay readers won’t care and Seidule wants us to be mad. Right. Onwards.  I had to google one general that he mentioned there – Humphreys – and found his paragraph to basically be the wikipedia entry… Facepalm.

Seidule’s wife originally tuned him into the Confederate Lost Cause myths of slave happiness, of southern gentlemen, of lies and propaganda, and the myth of Lee himself.  Let me stop there and say that Seidule is pissed, and I don’t blame him but I found his passion/anger extremely off putting.  There is enough anger already, but the author is targeting a white middle class audience and he wants us to get the point.

On that note, how readable is this book for that audience?  The chapters are LONG.  I read textbooks for fun and am down for it, but after chapter 4 a lot of readers are going to tune him out, which is curious because you have to read until chapter 7 to hear anything positive said about Lee.

My first question as a lay reader would be: What did this guy do, that everybody worships him so much? Was he a military genius? What did he accomplish? Are any part of the myths accurate?

Well – lots, yes, quite a bit, and some, yes, are those answers.  Without going into a historical diatribe I can say that in chapter 7, Seidule finally answers those questions and gives Lee enough credit to make him not seem like a complete idiot.  Prior to that, if I knew absolutely NO history, I would have not understood why Lee was worshipped so much.  For the readers who just want to be mad about racism through a 2020 lens and ignore the war itself – this is a fantastic book.  He even ends chapter seven with a perfect segue to the rest of the book: why it was SO bizarre that Lee went with Virginia.  Did he commit treason? I think so.  Should we worship him? No.  Does he deserve a tad bit of credit as a military strategist and general? I think yes.

Even if you don’t watch the entire speech linked above, watch like 30 seconds of Seidule’s longer speech, note the Recumbent Lee statue, and you’ll see that Lee is actually somewhere at or around Jesus in Southern history and curriculum

Not so much anymore, but he was.

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This is a picture of a Civil War media book, where the New York Times coverage is shown next to the Southern newspaper’s coverage of certain events.  Northern vs Southern media has always, always been a battle.  Seidule acts like this started after the war and it didn’t, the myth was propagated even as the war happened.

I am from northern NY and was raised with a GRADE SCHOOL curriculum  in which we watched a movie where a slave was made to create a fire under a cauldron, and boil himself to death while being stabbed with a pitchfork.   One of the more interesting chapters talked about the totally disillusioned southern curriculum, where slavery was a positive thing for everyone.  Thankfully I wasn’t raised with any of these myths.

Another ‘myth’ discussed is that the South only lost because of manpower and resources.  There was definitely a numerical advantage (I am not getting into numbers here) even though it wasn’t as profound as re written history wants people to believe, and you can’t possibly deny that Southern supplies and conditions were atrocious.  My point is that even though the myths are myths, they are rooted in SOME fact. Except the slavery one, which is total hogwash and I agree with Seidule that Gone With the Wind is total trash.

Content wise, the most informative and disturbing part was about the lynchings in Virginia and history of lynching in general – I thought it started with civil rights but was predominately a white punishment before the war.

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One more interesting thing I want to point out is that to an amateur historian looking for books about the civil war and the portrayals of the Generals, society, historical accuracy vs a lauding of a myth… There is a lot of literature out there.  It is easier to find books on the confederacy and confederates, although I probably have dug up equal reading on both sides at this point.  Most of the Union biographers don’t match the gusto of the southern ones.  The year the books are written and the historian themselves effects the writing so much, from the textbooks to the fiction.  I even have books of songs and poetry and medicine from the war and hardly any of it is impartial, which only roves that from day one this has been a charged subject.  I think the historians that Seidule mentions are quite good picks from what I can tell, and have ordered a few of their books based off his recommendations.

The takeaway: Do I recommend this book? Seidule sets out to prove that the Civil War was about slavery, and monuments are about oppression and racism.  He succeeds very handily.  Minus the long chapters and Seidule’s angry “passionate” and often repetitive writing… I would say read the book.  Read it but not as a Civil War historical source.  Read it to learn about the roots of racism and how it’s manifested over the years, but keep your mind open to further historical reading because it’s all pretty fascinating.

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fiction General Fiction Historical Fiction

Book Review: Open Heart by Gregory D. Williams

Thank you so much to Grand Canyon Press and Bookish First for the finished copy of Open Heart in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!  I just want to say first how real this book felt – this is why I love books about medicine and life written by medical people

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Open Heart
  • Author: Gregory D. Williams
  • Publisher & Release: Grand Canyon Press, December 18th 2020
  • Length: 418 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yesss

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads: 

Life is fleeting. Love is a gift.

In this coming of age novel set in the 1970s, Gene Hull is whitewashing the trunks of Arizona citrus trees when he spots a beautiful girl and falls instantly in love. The girl is vulnerable and shy. Though Gene breaks through her reserve, a date at a wave park turns into a near disaster, and Gene must call on the one person he can always rely on—his doctor father.

Although the girl survives and Gene wins her over, what will happen when they leave for college? Is she truly “the one,” or will distance drive them apart?

When a freak accident blows a hole in Gene’s freshman year, his grades tank, and he bobbles the ball with the love of his life. She’s gone forever. Not only that, but he’ll never get into med school on grades alone.

Hoping to improve his chances of admission, he spends the summer trailing a famous heart surgeon. But can Gene, determined to live up to his father’s legacy, turn his summer in the “Heart Room”—an operating theater of chilling cold, bone saws, and macabre humor—into an experience that would make his father proud? Will he ever love again?

If you like novels where family life is complicated, and parents’ expectations trickle down into their children’s lives, then you’ll love Gregory D. Williams’ roman à clef about life, love, and finding one’s own true path.

Buy Open Heart today for an inside look at a team of surgeons healing broken hearts and a young man trying desperately to heal his own.

I always thought The House of God was the quintessential fiction so read for people coming into medicine, but Open Heart has it’s place right alongside it

I’m inordinately sad that the author passed away, the book feels like his legacy and love letter to medicine. Kind of Ironic considering that Carl’s death had a huge impact on the book – I wonder if the author knew it was coming, or if he died suddenly? I want to take the text in context if he thought he was writing his legacy!

Williams really touches on what it means to trust each other and lean on your family / “family” in healthcare. He even mentions death breakfast (death cheese anyone?) I feel like every hospital has a Jesse. And an Irene. And heck, there’s a Dr Harrington too. I feel like there’s something in the book that every medical person out there can relate to.

*That patient you just felt helpless about for so long, even though there’s nothing you could have done for them

*Or that time you f*cked up and it’ll haunt you just the same

*Have you ever lost your shit over an outcome?

Like I said, this will hit medical people right in the feels

There is a lot of medical talk (1970s style) about heart surgery and bypass that I am not sure laypeople would get through without skimming, but I found it fascinating. Gene’s life, growing up, taking ownership of your mistakes, and learning all about love should be enough to keep anyone interested in the book.  Being accountable and owning your actions are hard concepts for young folks to learn.

I obviously liked the OR chapters the best, and the parts about forgiving yourself for mistakes, growing up, moving forward, letting your heart “come off bypass” so to speak

Jesse the tray guy and Rui’s bad elephant jokes were more perfect additions. Honestly the doctors and nurses were really great characters and I liked the parallels between the OR family life and Gene’s family.  Reconciling what you think your parents are like and learning the truth is always a hard lesson.

100% recommend Open Heart for anyone in medicine, and anyone looking for a good coming of age story as well. This is a superbly written novel for anyone that likes reading about characters learning hard and real life truths.

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Middle Grade Young Adult

She Plays We Win! A Coffee Table Book for Girls

Thank you so much to Dart Frog Books for my copy of She Plays We Win! It is a coffee table book of photography by Christin Rose, depicting young girls at sport along with quotes, advice, anecdotes, and brief interviews with some of the athletes!

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Here is the description from Amazon:

Description

When photographer Christin Rose started She Plays We Win in 2016, she set out to create a photo series that would celebrate the confidence and perseverance of young girls in athletics. The project grew exponentially with the help of social media as girls all over the country connected through a love for the game and formed a community to uplift and encourage one another.

Inspired by the positive influence of sports in her own formative years, Rose connects effortlessly with the young athletes and truly captures the hustle and heart of what it means to be a competitor. With She Plays We Win, The Book, Rose debuts her first comprehensive collection of work and has teamed up with the Women’s Sport’s Foundation to commit of the proceeds to help keep women of all ages in the game.

Bursting with life and color, this fun and interactive book is as bright and bold as the girls donning it’s pages. Real stories of trials and triumph from over 200 fearless young athletes and powerful images of sweat and sisterhood offer an inspiring read for women of any age.

My Thoughts:

This is a little different from what I usually feature on here but it’s such a great book for girls of any age.  The ones depicted are ages 7-14 and from all over the world, various races, various levels of poverty, and even a few disabled athletes are included!! I was thrilled to see equestrian sports (yes horse sports are sports!), boxing, hockey, skateboarding, and other less conventional sports for young girls as well as the more popular ones like basketball and track.

These amazing photos aren’t necessarily of state champions and record setters either, which is cool because it will be extremely relatable to readers.  These are just every day girls showing and supporting others in that sports are accessible, and a great foundation for life skills, hard work, fun, and following their dreams.

The book also states that a portion of the proceeds go towards the Women’s Sports Foundation!  So much girl power packed into this volume.  Definitely 100% recommend this book for any young girls, I wish I had it when I was a kid trying to play everything!

I hope you’ll check out the website to find out more about #ShePlaysWeWin , a movement and community empowering girls in sports!

http://www.sheplayswewin.com/

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

Book Review: Trial by Fire by Scott James

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the finished copy of Trial by Fire in exchange for an honest review and feature!  All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Trial by Fire
  • Author: Scott James
  • Genre: Nonfiction, true crime
  • Publisher & Release: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2020
  • Length: 384 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for those interested!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

In only 90 seconds, a fire in the Station nightclub killed 100 people and injured hundreds more. It would take nearly 20 years to find out why—and who was really at fault.

All it took for a hundred people to die during a show by the hair metal band Great White was a sudden burst from two giant sparklers that ignited the acoustical foam lining the Station nightclub. But who was at fault? And who would pay? This being Rhode Island, the two questions wouldn’t necessarily have the same answer.

Within 24 hours the governor of Rhode Island and the local police commissioner were calling for criminal charges, although the investigation had barely begun, no real evidence had been gathered, and many of the victims hadn’t been identified. Though many parties could be held responsible, fingers pointed quickly at the two brothers who owned the club. But were they really to blame? Bestselling author and three-time Emmy Award-winning reporter Scott James investigates all the central figures, including the band’s manager and lead singer, the fire inspector, the maker of the acoustical foam, as well as the brothers. Drawing on firsthand accounts, interviews with many involved, and court documents, James explores the rush to judgment about what happened that left the victims and their families, whose stories he also tells, desperate for justice.

Trial By Fire is the heart-wrenching story of the fire’s aftermath because while the fire, one of America’s deadliest, lasted fewer than two minutes, the search for the truth would take twenty years.

I hadn’t heard of this tragedy but after a quick Google search (not recommended video viewing for the faint of heart) I became quickly interested. A reporter live at the scene, ironically there for a feature on safety, caught video of this rapidly unfolding horror show that created a mystery for years to come. This is an extremely readable and fast moving book for a nonfiction!

In Trial by Fire, Scott James looks at everyone’s side of the story. From the club owners to the club and band managers, the fire marshall, the foam company that sold the wrong insulation to the club owners, plus survivors, families of the deceased, and more, I feel like a really wide and unbiased portrayal of events was covered here. James even brings in Rhode Island history and legal precedents to set the scene for encountered attitudes and court proceedings. I appreciated the full disclosure elements too.

I think the most interesting part for me was how the media was so biased, and totally seems to have f**ked up a lot of the coverage and facts. The governor tried to clamp down on false information and the club owners tried to stay out of the crap slinging, but there is a really huge issue with bad media coverage and people rushing to believe it. I did learn a lot about how media works though. Another interesting part was … Well… I’m a nurse and love medical bits. I was morbidly fascinated while reading about people’s skin melting off as they tried to be pulled to safety, toxic smoke inhalation, flash points, and triage. Also the hospital coverage and burn treatments, especially the pulmonary advancements were super interesting to me. Thinking about this from a first responder perspective is truly horrifying. I can’t even imagine being inside or outside and just hearing all the screams stop, it’s too terrible to process fully 😳

I learned a ton about everything from fire in general to safety codes, history, the legal system, and human nature by reading this book. I really highly recommend for anyone interested in true crime or investigative journalism type reads. Also there is a huge humanitarian aspect to the book and personal stories of many survivors and victims, if you enjoy a bittersweet success story.

Thank you again so much to St Martin’s Press (Sara thank you!) for my copy, all opinions are my own!

If anyone has read this and/or wants to discuss it, feel free to leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Crime

ARC Review: Magnetized – Conversations With A Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued

  • Title: Magnetized
  • Author: Carlos Busqued
  • Translator: Samuel Rutter
  • Publisher & Release: Catapult- June 2020
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for true crime fans
Here is the description from GoodReads:

A riveting psychological portrait for readers of true crime classics such as My Dark Places, The Stranger Beside Me, and I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, one of Argentina’s most innovative writers brings to life the story of a serial killer who, in 1982, murdered four taxi drivers without any apparent motive.

Over the course of one ghastly week in September 1982, the bodies of four taxi drivers were found in Buenos Aires, each murder carried out with the same cold precision. The assailant: a nineteen-year-old boy, odd and taciturn, who gave the impression of being completely sane. But the crimes themselves were not: four murders, as exact as they were senseless.

More than thirty years later, Argentine author Carlos Busqued began visiting Ricardo Melogno, the serial killer, in prison. Their conversations return to the nebulous era of the crimes and a story full of missing pieces. The result is a book at once hypnotic and unnerving, constructed from forensic documents, newspaper clippings, and interviews with Melogno himself. Without imposing judgment, Busqued allows for the killer to describe his way of retreating from the world and to explain his crimes as best he can. In his own words, Melogno recalls a visit from Pope Francis, grim depictions of daily life in prison, and childhood remembrances of an unloving mother who drove her son to Brazil to study witchcraft. As these conversations progress, the focus slowly shifts from the crimes themselves, to Melogno’s mistreatment and mis-diagnosis while in prison, to his current fate: incarcerated in perpetuity despite having served his full sentence.

Using these personal interviews, alongside forensic documents and newspaper clippings, Busqued crafted Magnetized, a captivating story about one man’s crimes, and a meditation on how one chooses to inhabit the world, or to become absent from it.

Magnetized is one of my first forays into the true crime genre. I love fictional serial killers and thought it would be fascinating to read into the mind of a real one!

I was right. I read this in two sittings and have no regrets. Melogno recounted his early life, what he remembered of the crimes, and about his life in prison in as much concrete detail as he can. One psychiatrist noted that his answers were so concrete that he was probably somewhere on the autism spectrum.

From a terrible early life where he learned no coping skills, to a dysfunctional post-military life, it was pretty fascinating to hear Melognos’s accounts. The utter lack of emotion i:n the book is also a factor because it was noted multiple times that the killer essentially didn’t have emotions. He seemed logical enough though and had some funny anecdotes, my favorite being about Pope Francis and the Satan worshipping chalice.

My favorite part as a nurse was seeing how absolutely terrible some of the psychiatric treatments are. I was totally horrified by the sleep therapy, quantity of drugs used, and general conditions of the hospitals described.

Overall i would totally recommend this to any fan of true crime and serial killer related novels.

Possible upsetting content involving animal abuse and child abuse, also murders being described.

Thank you so much to the publisher for my free copy in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own

Do you read true crime? Recommend me some good ones below!!

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It by Tom Phelan

Tit;e: We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It

Author: Tom Phelan

Publisher: Gallery Books

Release Date: March 5th, 2019

Rating: 4/5 ****

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review

Here is the summary per Amazon:

Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.

It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.

We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It recounts Tom’s upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life’s adversities.

The memoir covers Tom’s life from birth to when he takes off for boarding school. Similar events are organized into chapters and follow a fairly logical sequence. Minus the lack of transition between chapters, this is a smooth and enjoyable read!

The first person point of view let me feel like I was actually sitting in the kitchen with the neighbors. Phelan’s style paints such avid descriptions of people and places that I truly enjoyed it as a picture of his farm and community. A particularly descriptive part that stands out is about the crawlies in the soil and how connected they (Tom and dad) felt to the land and each other.

There are a multitude of neighbors, townfolk, schoolmates and family members who had a part in Tom’s childhood. His father and Missus Fritz were my two favorites, for their kindness and things they said when children weren’t listening!

I don’t know if I believe that they were as happy as he writes, but I feel like he didn’t know anything else. If he had known that the kids were targeting him out of desperation and jealousy instead of animosity, he would have had a better perspectie – but a portion of the moral is about hindsight and how you see things as an adult, things you regret or wish you knew.

Overall I give this a strong 4/5. Happy to recommend to anyone interested in history, Ireland, memoirs; anyone who likes to laugh at anecdotes and clever fixes; anyone into farming even would love this!