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Pick of the Month, September 2012

 

Fiction

Harbor Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh, Mysterious Press, $27.00

           

The novel consists of two loosely intertwined plots. One story follows the zany characters of Hollywood Station. Their most bizarre case involves Dr. Maurice Montaigne who performs illegal operations on those suffering from apotemnophilia (an obsession to have a healthy limb amputated, aka amputation fetish). This creepy doctor resembles the real-life Dr. John R. Brown, who was convicted of murder in the death of a patient. Brown was a major figure in the plastic surgery underground subculture - a topic that publishers are accused, rightly or wrongly, of rejecting in spite of public interest.

     

The second story deals with the evolving relationship between the not-too-bright longshoreman Dinko Babich and stripper Lita Medina. It lacks the originality and wit of the Hollywood Station sections and feels as if written by a different author. Overall, Harbor Nocturne is an interesting and enjoyable read, and we are looking forward to the next Hollywood Station novel.


Nonfiction

Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu with Paul & Terri Williams, Simon & Schuster, $24.99

Winning Balance by Shawn Johnson with Nancy French, Tyndale Momentum, $19.99


Dominique Moceanu, 30, and Shawn Johnson, 20, have each won numerous medals in gymnastics. Dominique won the team gold medal during the 1996 Olympics, the first U.S. women’s gymnastic team to receive it, and she is still remembered for her floor routine to the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Shawn won a gold and three silver medals in the 2008 Olympics and three gold medals in the 2007 World Championships, including the all-around.


In their memoirs, they tell of failing to fit in with their peers while in grade school. Dominique recalls how embarrassed she was in PE when students chose teams and she was the last one and neither team wanted her. In the gym, however, they found acceptance and grew to love gymnastics. They also tell of a negative side: the injuries and preoccupation with thinness and food in a sport where, Shawn notes, the trend is for gymnasts to be smaller and younger.


Dominique grew up in a dysfunctional home where she felt “like walking on eggshells.” Her parents were immigrants, the father a volatile control freak who would humiliate her in front of others, the mother wanting to go back to Romania, and lack of money was a frequent problem. Unable to reason with her father, she ran away from home at age 17 and made headlines for “divorcing her parents.” The father stalked and harassed her and tried to hire a hit man to kill her coach and a male friend, causing her to go into hiding. At the same time, she acknowledges the many sacrifices her parents made for her career. She dabbled with drugs for a while, then turned her life around. After her marriage, she and sister Christina discovered they had another sister, Jennifer, who was given up for adoption because she was born without legs. Jennifer and her adoptive parents, Sharon and Gerald Bricker, proved to be amazing people whose story is an especially interesting part of Off Balance.


In contrast, Shawn’s home in an Iowa suburb was tranquil and pleasant. An only child of upper-middle class parents who insisted she lead as normal a life as possible, she went fishing with her dad, shopping with her mom, and had a wonderful friend in her cousin Tori. The drama came from outside: the efforts to make the Olympic team; the 2008 Iowa floods that almost derailed this goal; her near meltdown in Beijing; and being stalked by a demented man when she appeared with Mark Ballas on Dancing with the Stars and won the series.


Stark contrasts also existed in Dominique and Shawn’s relationships with their coaches. Dominique loved being at LaFleur’s in Florida. However, the family moved to Texas when she was 7 so she could train with the legendary Béla and Marta Karolyi, defectors from Romania who had coached Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton. While staying at the Karolyi ranch, she felt they did not like her in spite of everything her mother did for them, and the fear of making a mistake was ever present. Her complaints include negative mind games, poor quality of the gym, and indifference to injuries.


Shawn formed a close relationship with Coach Liang Chow from the start. Since Shawn lives in West Des Moines where Chow’s Gym is located, it spared her the stress of extensive commuting. She writes: “Coach Chow is a firm believer in a training program that allows for life outside the gym - something he never had growing up.” She is especially proud of her gold medals in the World Championships since in gymnastics they hold more prestige than medaling in the Olympics and are better indicators as to who are the best gymnasts in the world.


Shawn wanted to train for the 2012 Olympics but had to drop out because of a knee injury from a skiing accident. Dominique’s latest comeback, for which she practiced extensively, turned controversial. Every time she met the requirements, they changed, and she was prevented from competing in the Nationals. She blames Marta Karolyi and asserts that Karolyi has a stranglehold on every aspect of elite women’s gymnastics, a situation she wants to change.


Off Balance and Winning Balance are compelling reads and provide insights into women’s gymnastics. They reveal that talent is not enough to succeed but must be accompanied by hard work, ability to cope with pain and stress, and willingness to make sacrifices. The stories are well suited for film adaptations.


Children’s/YA

Arctic & Antarctic  (Eyewitness Guides), Rev. Ed. 2012, by Barbara Taylor, photographed by Geoff Brightling, DK Publishing, $16.99, ages 8 & up

    

Some of the topics touched upon in this informative book are the discovery of the Arctic; how polar bears endure the winter without hibernation; the midnight sun - why the sun never sets for several months during the summer; the wandering albatross, which has the greatest wingspan of any living bird; and ways of keeping warm. An excellent, beautifully illustrated book.

    

Specialty/Small Press

Ashland Creek Press was established in 2010 and focuses on books about travel, ecology, and animal rights. One of its publications is the novel The Tourist Trail by John Yunker, which tells of biologist Angela Haynes at the lonely penguin research station in Patagonia and her involvement with an FBI agent with a hidden past and a computer tech dedicated to animal rights.

    

Author submissions: They are interested in fiction and nonfiction dealing with travel, the environment, and animal protection. They are especially interested in novels with eco themes, a topic that readers in a poll found lacking in fiction. At this time they are not accepting children’s books.


Commentary

Remembering

Neil Armstrong, 82, an American hero, died on August 25, 2012 from complications from heart-bypass surgery. He was an astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, and university professor. As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, he was the first person to walk on moon, July 20, 1969. He highly valued his privacy and refused offers to run for public office. He supported state rights and opposed the U.S. grabbing the role of “world’s policeman.”


Top 12 Olympic Scandals & Controversies During the Past 50 Years:

At the 1964 Tokyo Games, Ewa Klobukowska, Poland, won a gold medal in women’s 4x100 m. rely. She became in 1967 the first woman Olympian to fail the gender test and was banned from sports.


From 1966-1989, East Germany forced thousands of athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs with tragic consequences to many.


The Tlatelolco Massacre (aka Night of Tlatelolco), October 2, 1968. Ten days  prior to the Mexico City Games, students protested the government’s draconian measures. The government reacted with violence that left 44 confirmed fatalities (some claim about 300 deaths) and over 1,000 arrests.


Mexico, prodded by the British, refused the Rhodesian Olympic team entry into the country. Rhodesian sports teams had always been multiracial, and this was an especially hard blow to two black long-distance runners and likely medalists, Mathias Kanda and Bernard Dzoma, who had trained for years and were heartbroken. A famous picture shows Kanda running with a train and staying ahead of it.


The Munich Massacre, September 5-6, 1972. Black September terrorists took members of the Israel Olympic team hostage and killed six coaches and five athletes. A West German policeman and five of the eight terrorists were also killed. Yet requests for a minute of silence to commemorate this tragedy was rejected at the 2012 Games.


Although invited to the 1972 Munich Games, Rhodesian team was banned (in a split decision and over the objection of the IOC president) four days before the opening ceremony because several African nations threatened to boycott the games if Rhodesia participated. When these countries wanted to ban New Zealand from the 1976 Montreal Games allegedly because its All Black rugby team visited South Africa, they lost, and 26 African nations, Iraq, and Guyana were no-shows.


At the 1976 Games, Soviet pentathlete Boris Onischenko was caught with a doctored épée (in the fencing portion of the event) that would register a hit  whether or not one had been made. The entire Soviet male pentathlon team was disqualified.


President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Over 60 countries joined the boycott. This upset many athletes who had trained hard and felt politics should not influence participation.


The Soviet Union, along with 14 other countries, boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games, citing concerns over safety of their athletes.


Prior to the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, figure skater Tonya Harding and her ex-husband devised an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although this forced the injured Kerrigan to withdraw from the U.S. Championships (which Harding then won), she nevertheless made the team, displacing the second place winner Michelle Kwan. At the Olympics, Kerrigan received silver, and many felt she was robbed of the gold medal by biased judging. Harding came 8th and was later banned for life from skating competitions.


At the 2002 Games in Sidney, U.S. sprinter Marion Jones won five medals. She later emerged as the biggest name in the BLANCO doping scandal and confessed in 2007 to using performance enhancing drugs. She was stripped of her medals and served time in prison for perjury.


Prior to the 2012 London Games, triple-jumper Voula Papachristou posted a flip comment on Twitter regarding immigrants to Greece, which had no implications for the Olympics. Nevertheless, she was expelled from the team. (Hateful comments regarding Jews, however, seem to be acceptable.) Although she apologized, there would be no forgiveness. This and similar cases led to controversy and questions such as: What views are athletes prohibited from expressing? Can one be punished for something that wasn’t spelled out beforehand? What about comments made years ago or by friends & family? Will this evolve into digging up comments to eliminate rivals? Some are advising athletes to avoid Twitter and other social media.


Winners and Losers

Winners

  1. Gymnast Gabrielle Christina “Gabby” Douglas, aka the Flying Squirrel, 16, Virginia. At the 2012 Olympics, she won gold medals in team and all-around and charmed the public. For the past two years she has lived in West Des Moines, Iowa with a host family, Missy and Travis Parton, who home-schooled her, so that she can train with Coach Liang Chow. Next on her list is a 40-day tour after which she plans to resume training at Chow’s Gym and enter more competitions. It remains to be seen how much the controversy she started will affect her Q-score.

  2. Boxer Oleksandr Usky, 25, Ukraine. At London games, he came from behind to win gold medal in boxing heavyweight division, then broke into a Ukrainian folk dance. He was one happy fellow.

  3. Farm Rescue has provided free planting and harvesting help to around 200 farmers who have suffered a major illness or natural disaster. It operates in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana and plans to expand to at least one more state this year. 

  4. Construction worker Sheldon Birthwright, 46, New York. The observant Birthwright noticed on the subway that Professor of Urology Adam Levinson, 39, was peeking up women’s skirts with his spy camera. He followed the doctor and pointed him out to the police. His quick actions led to Levinson being arrested and charged with unlawful surveillance.

  5. Bardstown, Kentucky was chosen the most beautiful small town in America in a contest sponsored by Rand McNally.


Losers

  1. Former CFO and treasurer at Vante, Adam M. Smith, Arizona. This middle-aged man bullied a young employee, Rachel Elizabeth, at Chick-fil-A over the restaurant’s CEO’s religion and placed a video of his tirade on YouTube. Consequently he lost his job. Didn’t he learn anything from the uproar over the bus monitor’s bullying? People are getting fed up with bullies and whiners.

  2. ICE Chief of Staff Suzanne Barr. At least three employees of ICE have alleged she engaged in lewd conduct and illegal discrimination. According to one allegation, she moved the office content of three employees, including their computers and telephones, into the men’s bathroom at ICE headquarters. Barr was forced to resign.

  3. San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Melky Cabrera, 28 & Oakland Athletics’ pitcher Bartolo Colon, 39. These two cheaters were caught using performance-enhancing drugs and suspended for 50 games.

  4. Dr. Amjad Butt, 58, practiced internal medicine and cardiology in Clinton, Iowa. A nurse complained that he demanded she leave her husband and “have his babies.” When she refused, he threatened to kill her. There were other staff complaints, and he lost his job at Medical Associates. He failed to comply with sanctions imposed by the Medical Board and thus faces another hearing in November.

  5. Joseph Baken, 22, Billings, Montana. He claimed he was beaten up for being gay and reportedly identified a business and suspects. Then a cellphone video revealed he had instead fallen on his face trying to do a backflip. He confessed to making a false police report and now has a rap sheet.

Tallinn 1995. The capital city of Estonia was founded in the 11th century and has had several names, one of them Reval. Photographer:TS

Viktor Eduard Kingissepp (1888-1922), twice divorced father of two sons and head of the Estonian Communist Party. After his death, Stalin named a Russian town after him. Also several streets bear his name.

The Kingissepp brothers Sergei Voldemar (left, b. 1909) and Endel Anatol (b. 1907). When the Russians occupied Estonia in 1940, Sergei became head of the NKVD. He located Johannes Linkhorst (who lived then under an assumed name) and killed him and at least one policeman involved in his father’s arrest. In 1941, while he fled from the Germans, his freighter received a direct hit and he died in the Gulf of Finland. Endel died in 1942.

In Off Balance, Dominque Moceanu credits her success to talent; hard work; and, in spite of their strained relationship, her parents’ sacrifices and their belief in her. At age 14, she became the youngest American gymnast to win Gold and youngest athlete to be on the Wheaties box.

Dominique lives in Cleveland with her husband, Dr. Michael Canales, a podiatrist and former gymnast at The Ohio State University, and their two children. She coaches part-time at Gymnastics World and gives clinics and private lessons in gymnastics.

Dominique Moceanu and Alicia Thompson are authors of The Go-For-Gold Gymnasts series, Hyperion, ages 10 & up. Winning Team, one of the titles in this series oriented to girls, was published in April, 2012.

Shawn Johnson, Olympic Champion: Stories Behind the Smile, Lexicon, a picture book that makes a good companion to Winning Balance. It reveals that Rascal Flatts is Shawn’s favorite band and turquoise is her favorite color; she owns a Golden Retriever; and she promotes Frosted Pink With a Twist, which educated the public about cancers affecting primarily women.


Shawn’s many awards include the EPSY for Best Female Olympian in 2009; Teen Choice Female Athlete of the Year in 2009 & 2011; the Robert D. Ray Pillar of Character Award; and the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award - the first female gymnast to win it. Shawn returns to Dancing With the Stars, this time with partner Derek Hough.

Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas’s coaches, Liang Chow, and his wife, Liwen Zhuang, operate Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines, Iowa. They were elite gymnasts on the Beijing city team and have a son Kevin (b. 2006). Twenty-one years ago he moved to the U.S. to help coach the University of Iowa men’s gymnastics team. After seven years, he and Liwen started their gym. During the Iowa floods of 2008, the gym was covered by four feet of water, causing extensive damage. The community banded together and helped rebuild the gym. Also, the Coca-Cola company assisted.


Chow was head coach of the 2008 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team and received a warm welcome when he returned to Beijing. He has earned an international reputation as a coach and is also known for his ability to relate to youngsters. According to The Des Moines Registrar,  Coach Chow receives calls from gymnasts around the world. Last year, Nikki Nguyen moved with her four children from Houston to West Des Moines so that her talented daughter Victoria, 11, could train at Chow’s Gym.