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review 2019-03-21 04:27
Cleo J. Dobson: U.S. Navy Carrier Pilot World War II A Personal Account - Carl Dobson,Dorothy Dobson Zoellner,Nancy Dobson Napier

This book was compiled in large part by the family of Lieutenant (jg) Cleo J. Dobson from the diaries he kept during his Second World War service as a pilot in the United States Navy between December 7, 1941 (the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, when he flew in to one of the air bases there from the carrier USS Enterprise) and the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

Dobson was a native of Oklahoma who went on to earn a degree in Mathematics from a state university in 1938. Following graduation, he joined the Navy and was accepted for pilot training, which he completed 2 years later. Dobson's war entailed participating in the early raids U.S. naval air forces made on Japanese island bases in the Central Pacific during February and March 1942 (a time when Japanese air and sea superiority was overwhelming), as well as flying missions as a scout/dive bomber pilot in the Battle of Midway and the early battles around Guadalcanal from the Enterprise. (Later in the war, Dobson would return to active service with a carrier task group as a commander of a fighter squadron flying missions against the Japanese homeland in 1945.)

Reading this book made the immediacy of wartime life for a naval pilot - which was a mixture of extreme stress and tension from combat followed by moments of boredom and tedium - very real to me. 

With increasing numbers of Second World War veterans now passing away, I am ever more appreciative of the sacrifices they made to help re-establish and ensure peace and the promise of a better world for us all. This book comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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review 2019-03-17 20:07
Random Family / Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

In her extraordinary bestseller, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc immerses readers in the intricacies of the ghetto, revealing the true sagas lurking behind the headlines of gangsta glamour, gold-drenched drug dealers, and street-corner society. Focusing on two romances - Jessica's dizzying infatuation with a hugely successful young heroin dealer, Boy George, and Coco's first love with Jessica's little brother, Cesar - Random Family is the story of young people trying to outrun their destinies. Jessica and Boy George ride the wild adventure between riches and ruin, while Coco and Cesar stick closer to the street, all four caught in a precarious dance between survival and death. Friends get murdered; the DEA and FBI investigate Boy George; Cesar becomes a fugitive; Jessica and Coco endure homelessness, betrayal, the heartbreaking separation of prison, and, throughout it all, the insidious damage of poverty.

Charting the tumultuous cycle of the generations - as girls become mothers, boys become criminals, and hope struggles against deprivation - LeBlanc slips behind the cold statistics and sensationalism and comes back with a riveting, haunting, and true story.


I guess that I’m not entirely sure what the author was trying to achieve with this book. There’s no introduction, there’s no conclusion--I don’t enough about her to know her motivations. To be charitable, it would seem that she is trying to show, through the lives of three main people, the ties that bind people into poverty, drugs, and crime.

I have no doubts about how difficult it is to escape poverty. When your parents are uneducated, violent, and poor, who can you look to for an example of how to get out of that situation? During this time, in this place, boys were fathers in their teens, dropped out of school, and could only earn money through drugs and other criminality. Girls are pregnant in their teens, dropped out of school, and can’t provide for themselves and their children on minimum wage jobs. Sexual abuse is common because children get left with people that can’t be trusted. Girls skip from one man to the next because they’ve watched their mothers do the same thing. No one has enough education to properly fill out government forms to obtain benefits or to budget what little money they have. Boys take advantage of their male status to have sex with as many girls as they can talk into it. Girls can’t afford birth control and view having children as a way to bind boys to them.

Add to these problems that being a generous, good person can work against you. How many times did these women feed people who were only “random family”? Someone connected to someone who was part of the family? When girls have children by 2 or 3 different men, all of their relatives somehow become part of the web of family and women like Coco feel badly about denying them food and/or housing. Yet she knows that it’s bad for her own children in the long run.

These people are in a virtually inescapable situation. Their only pleasures are food and sex and they indulge when they get a chance--who wouldn’t? But when all the food is gone and there are more babies on the way, once again their lives worsen.

It was depressing reading because I know that the same things are probably happening to the children and grandchildren of Jessica, George, and Coco. Reading this made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born into the family that I’m part of, into the communities that I’m part of, and to be a citizen of my country. The fact that the adults around me didn’t lecture me about how to live, they just lived it and let me watch & learn. I learned to work, to live within my means, to value education, to regulate my emotions, all those skills that are necessary to living well. 

I’d like to think the author meant this book as more than just downward social comparison, but I wish that she had addressed her purpose directly. What would have made things better? Are there programs that could actually assist people in these life circumstances? Ultimately, without this kind of analysis, I wonder why she wrote it?

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review 2019-03-16 20:53
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc


I am finished!



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review 2019-03-14 23:12
The Kindness of Strangers - Salka Viertel

"THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS" is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. 

Salka Viertel (1889-1978) I had no knowledge of who she was prior to reading her memoir. But no sooner had I begun to read the first few pages, a door had been opened to a spacious house with many rooms, corners, and closets by an old, dear friend I hadn't heard from for many moons. Salka's words became alive and I eagerly listened to her life story. A life that had begun in a bourgeois Jewish family (her father was a distinguished lawyer and also mayor of Salka's hometown) in the province of Galicia in the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Salka aspired to be an actress and, after wearing down her parents' resistance, was given acting lessons. This was in the era just before the outbreak of the First World War. Salka became acquainted with some of the finest actors, artists, and musicians as she slowly ascended the ladder to a steady acting career which earned her distinction. Then the war intervenes and for a time, Salka and her younger sister Rose (who would became an actress herself) served as nurses before resuming acting in both Austria-Hungary and Germany. She led a somewhat bohemian lifestyle before making the acquaintance of the man (Berthold Viertel) who would later become her husband. Berthold was a talented poet, writer, and had extensive interest in the theatre. He would go on to become a distinguished theatre director, poet, and film maker. 

The memoir then takes the reader into Salka's later life which took her from Europe to America, where she would eventually work in Hollywood, make the acquaintance of Greta Garbo (who became a close friend), become an American citizen, and helped find homes in America (Salka lived in a lovely house in Santa Monica, California, not far from the Pacific) for many of the writers, artists, actors and actresses who were lucky to escape Hitler's clutches. 

Through reading "THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS", the reader is given access to 2 lost worlds spanning half of the 20th century. That is, " --- the pre-Hitler German-speaking stage and the pre-CGI Hollywood" as it was from the 1920s to the 1940s. Through all her ups and downs, Salka Viertel remained resilient, strong, tender-hearted, and full of life. I am so glad that I made her acquaintance.

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review 2019-03-14 13:16
PENNY MARSHALL: "My Mother Was Nuts"
My Mother Was Nuts - Penny Marshall

Today, I finished reading this memoir exactly at the point I arrived at my stop on the subway near where I work.  What timing, eh?


On the whole, "My Mother Was Nuts" was a very informative, funny, and engaging memoir.   I learned so much about Penny Marshall that I simply had no idea about.   I first became aware of her during the early 1970s because of the role she had in the TV sit-com "The Odd Couple" as Oscar Madison's secretary.    I thought she was funny and cute.    Then, I followed her at a distance when she was on "Laverne and Shirley."   By then, it was the mid-1970s, I was a preteen/early teen, and as "Laverne and Shirley" came on Tuesdays at 8 PM, opposite my favorite TV show on NBC at the time (which was "Baa Baa Black Sheep"), I didn't watch much of the goings on with Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney in Milwaukee during the late 1950s.         


Penny Marshall was one of those celebrities I grew up with but didn't follow her career closely.   I came to know her as an actress, film maker, and director.    So, reading her memoir was a very enjoyable and illuminating experience for me.    She was gutsy, a rabid sports fan, a big hearted person, and a hard-working pro who valued her family and friendships.   


I like to sum up this review by citing a quote from Penny Marshall about a meeting she had with Princess Grace of Monaco in the 1970s.  "... I chatted with the Princess, who was as gorgeous as I remembered her in movies when she was Grace Kelly, the star from Philadelphia. When I asked if she missed acting, she smiled and said, 'What do you think I’m doing now?' ”

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