Memoir & Non-Fiction

Driving in Reverse: The Life I Almost Missed by Lindsay Wincherauk

Driving in Reverse: The Life I Almost Missed by Lindsay Wincherauk is the life story of the author, focusing mainly on Lindsay’s loss of love, his discovery that his parents are not who he thought they were, and his trip to Europe with a good friend to escape his life for a while. When Lindsay is in his forties, he falls into the drug scene, going out to clubs where he drinks and does ecstasy, followed by after-parties. He meets a woman named Trish who is also involved in the drug scene and falls in love. Eventually, Trish and Lindsay have a messy break up, and soon after, Lindsay learns that his real mom was a woman that he had grown up believing was his sister, and his father was a man he never met. Lindsay’s aunt dies around that time leaving him $60,000, and he uses it to travel and forget about his lost love and sense of identity.

The part of the book that tells of Lindsay’s adventures in New York and Europe is told in a loosely structured and creative way. It is at all times an interesting, funny, and over-the-top tale of debauchery and human bonding. When Lindsay arrives back home, he writes letters to his family recounting his discovery of who his parents really were, and the responses that he gets are disappointing to him at best. Yet even with a sense of feeling lost in the world, Lindsay is able to recognize that his life is good, and the story he feels he should tell makes a wonderfully unique book that describes love, friendship, loss, travel, and overcoming hardship.


From Pittsburgh to Cádiz by Mitchell Phillips McCrady

Mitch Phillips is twenty-six years old when he decides to head across the Atlantic for a sojourn in Western Europe. Travelling with a work buddy named Kevin, the pair stops off in Amsterdam, where they sample the local fare, before heading up into Scotland to pursue their true purpose of travelling overseas: harvesting Christmas trees in the dreary, wintry weather. At first, Mitchell is excited to get away from his roots, and to set off on what will ostensibly become a journey to discover himself. Like an artist searching for the proper medium, Mitchell seeks a creative outlet that will help him catalog his inner thoughts; he turns to photography and writing as his favored form of expression. But Mitchell will soon learn that he can’t so easily escape his problems, and that sometimes the fantasies we carry through life don’t match up with reality.

From Pittsburgh to Cadiz is the first part of author Mitchell Phillips McCrady’s European travelogue. McCrady draws inspiration from other nomadic non-fiction writers like Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, while at the same time keeping his narrative locally and personally focused. The author has a particular gift for capturing regional linguistic tics, which serves to lift his memoir’s populace from the very page. McCrady’s authorial authenticity is then further strengthened by the many beautiful photographs he intersperses throughout the text; as a reader, it draws one almost involuntarily into the author’s personal headspace, creating an intimacy that is not easily achieved. From stirring start to startling conclusion, it is safe to say that this is only a snapshot of McCrady’s youthful memories, and we look forward to reading the next installment in this series.


Miseries, Illusions and Hope by Almas Akhtar

Miseries, Illusions and Hope by Almas Akhtar is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that largely take place in Pakistan, which detail the lives of people with professions as disparate as doctors and personal drivers. The stories follow a loose narrative, beginning with a broader look at the problems facing Pakistan, like income inequality, from the perspectives of characters whose fortunes represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Later stories examine the many minute ways in which a family can either fall apart or remain connected when it encounters difficulties like divorce, unsuccessful or barren marriages, and having a family member move across the country for work. Written mostly in first person, Akhtar’s accounts feel immediately accessible and relatable, even to readers who have never experienced anything like what is described by the author.

At the risk of sounding insincere, this short story collection could not have appeared at a better time. Under the Trump administration, immigration has come under fire in the face of terrorist attacks and growing global fear. Powerful – and, more importantly, personal – accounts like the ones Akhtar includes here are an essential step toward restoring the humanity of people who are often reduced to simple labels like “alien” or “foreigner.” It is possible to forget that these very people are seeking many of the same things we are, like safety, financial security, and better lives for their children. We propose a simple challenge: regardless of your background, read these stories and see if you cannot find common ground with at least one of the characters included here; it is a challenge you will likely fail.


The Quantum Realm: Philly the Photon by Mark A. Montgomery

The Quantum Realm: Philly the Photon by Mark A. Montgomery tells the story of Sebastian, a young man who gets stranded out in the forest with his father during an intense thunderstorm. After being frightened into inaction by the lightning, Sebastian becomes curious about the way light, gravity, and other forces of nature are formed. That night, he is visited by a subatomic particle named Philly the Photon who whisks Sebastian off to the Quantum Realm and offers to answer all of his scientific queries, while posing new questions along the way: What is time, really? Is light from the Sun the same as light from an electrical fixture? Sebastian travels to exotic locales like the Electron Sea and the Lair of Grunk the Great Graviton, meeting a variety of memorable characters who help teach him how to follow his curiosity and find truth.

Philly the Photon is a science-driven journey for young readers in the style of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. The author explains all manner of natural phenomena by using outlandish and amusing scenarios to construct teachable moments. In one scene, for example, Sebastian encounters a negatively charged electron whose mood begins to affect Sebastian himself; he is able to help the electron by radiating positivity and gratitude. These sorts of scientific in-jokes make Philly the Photon a delight, distracting readers from the fact that – gasp! – they are learning. As is often the case with well-written works, this novella can appeal just as well to school-aged students as it can to adult learners. This is the start of what promises to be an enjoyable, educational series tackling science’s big mysteries.


A Place of My Own by Edward Murphy

four stars

placeEdward Murphy loves to hunt. In A Place of My Own, he reflects fondly on his time spent in the woods of Pennsylvania hunting everything from deer and turkey to grouse and pheasants with his sons and friends. Black and white photos of their trophies from over the years are interspersed throughout the chapters. Murphy makes known his longtime goal of owning hunting land and this is a major focus of his writing. After years of hunting on other people’s’ property, Murphy explains the events that led to him fulfilling his dream and becoming the owner of a cabin on land—a place truly his own.

Those who enjoy hunting themselves are sure to appreciate Murphy’s writing. In addition to describing his hunts, Murphy discusses various hunting related activities such as using a dehydrator to make venison jerky and adjusting his rifle prior to a hunt. There are parts of A Place of My Own that may interest non-hunters, as well. Murphy’s love for the woods, regardless of whether he kills anything, is undeniable. He takes a week of vacation each year to hunt, spending ten hours a day in a tree-stand. “This is what I chose to do and I love it,” explains Murphy. His contentment simply being a part of nature is a made clear through details in his writing. For example, he describes a pair of eastern phoebes that take up residence on the front porch cross beam of his cabin and the crisp morning air when he rises early to sit in the tree-stand. It’s impossible not to celebrate with Murphy when he purchases his own cabin and starts to settle in. Whatever one’s lifelong goal, witnessing Murphy achieve his own is inspiring and serves as a reminder to never stop pursuing the things that bring us joy.


Beyond Our Degrees of Separation by Judith Ravin and Muhammad Hassan Miraj

four stars

beyondBeyond Our Degrees of Separation: Washington Monsoons and Islamabad Blues by Judith Ravin and Muhammad Hassan Miraj follows the intermittent intertwining and unraveling of two lives that seemingly could not be more disparate. This memoir, centered around an American woman who finds herself in the thick of Pakistan and a Pakistani man who happens to be a U.S.-trained member of the Pakistani military, demonstrates the unbelievable serendipity of fate and confronts some of the most pressing social issues of our time. As Miraj points out at the outset of the book, “We are nothing but the stories we tell and the stories we live,” and in laying out his life story as it intermingles with Ravin’s, he illustrates exactly this principle. Each tale, told largely separately through alternating perspectives in different chapters, beautifully speaks to the intricately woven nature of reality. The authors’ paths should not, by all rights, have crossed as much as they did, but it was for that reason that they felt compelled to share their experiences. In traversing the globe and immersing themselves in other cultures, they discovered that—despite the myriad warnings against interfaith harmony—the world is both far smaller than we like to imagine and much richer than we could ever have dreamed. By the end of their journeys, they’ve come to endure painful losses, traverse the tricky realities of a world marred by terrorism, but also revel in the awesome power of connection and delight in the levity of a life shared across borders.

Poignant beyond words, this memoir weaves its disparate stories through delicate prose that most closely resembles poetry. Each sentence masterfully captures a moment, a sentiment, an idea—and brings each to life in unfathomable ways. Beyond Our Degrees of Separation bears infinite re-readings for the sheer beauty of its writing, and even more for its devastatingly gorgeous messages about the universality of the human experience. No matter the distance, no matter the cultural separations: we are all in this together—this message rings loud and clear throughout the pages of the memoir. If you have any inkling of wanderlust, this memoir may just quench your thirst for adventure without ever leaving the confines of your reading nook. In exploring the intersection between two vastly different worlds, Beyond Our Degrees of Separation proves that we all experience loss, heartache, joy, love, and triumph in much the same ways. It only takes recognizing the threads that bind us together in order to fully appreciate the impossible intricacy and immutable beauty of the world: all of which this truly remarkable book encapsulates.


What More Is There to Say? by Elaine Colton

four stars

coltonSeventy-four-year-old Elaine Colton leads a happy life. In What More Is There to Say? Colton highlights the specific moments that have made her journey to date so fulfilling. Readers visit the drive-in theater where Colton started working when she was fifteen and hear about a few funny mishaps from her years as an American Airlines stewardess. Colton recounts life outside of work, as well. A single mother of two boys, Colton describes moving to a new house, only six blocks away, to ensure that her oldest son was in the best school district. Overcoming her fears in New Paltz, New York, going to jail (more than once), and meeting her soulmate, are a few of the other memories that Colton shares.

Colton does not transition smoothly from one subject to another. Instead, What More Is There to Say? is a series of distinct memories arranged in chronological order. In this way, What More Is There to Say? feels like a personal diary and being granted full access to Colton’s writing is a fun treat. While Colton recounts her many professional accomplishments, what is most notable is her focus on the ordinary. The way in which she cherishes simple life events, from her involvement in Cub Scouts to eating late-night pizza with childhood friends, is moving. What More Is There to Say? is not a read for those seeking a cohesive, highly polished memoir with huge revelations that delivers one unbelievable events after another. Instead, this book is for those who want to glimpse at an ordinary person’s extraordinary happiness.


Victor Valley to West Point by C.A. Henderson


victorC.A. Henderson’s memoir, Victor Valley to West Point: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, aims to inspire others to never stop dreaming, even if you must modify your dreams. Henderson relates the story of his life, beginning with a relatively idyllic childhood in San Bernardino. Everything changes, however, after his parents’ divorce and his mother struggles to raise C.A. and his siblings on her own. They move around a lot, but one thing never changes for C.A. – his love of football. His dreams come crashing to a halt when his mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, refuses to allow him to play. Finally, in junior high, his mother changes her mind and C.A. finally gets to try out for football. He continues playing in high school, moving in with his father after some trouble getting along with his mother. Eventually, C.A. attracts the attention of West Point, and is given a full scholarship. An injury in his very first game sidelines him, unfortunately, and C.A. sinks into a depression, eventually leaving West Point and giving up on his dream of football. Ultimately, after many sidesteps and poor decisions, C.A. rallies, and manages to graduate from college and adapt his dream to the new circumstances of his life.

Henderson’s story is an interesting one, and he records all of it – the things that make him look good and the things that do not. Sports fans in particular will enjoy this story, as Henderson’s passion for football really comes through, from his days playing only flag football, to his first college ball game. The general reader may find this to be too much detail, however, and occasionally, the story seems repetitive, which could cause the reader’s interest to wane. This is only enhanced by Henderson’s often dull word choice and descriptions, which could benefit from some polishing and some variety. Nevertheless, Henderson achieves his stated goal of “enlighten[ing], and perhaps inspir[ing], someone else –someone … who perhaps had a dream their whole life but gave up on it; or someone that has a dream and needs encouragement to follow their dream.” Henderson does so not by narrating some shocking twist or impossible occurrence, but by detailing the ordinary struggles that everyone encounters, and demonstrating that it is possible to for everyone to achieve their goals, even if those goals look a bit different than what they had first imagined.


Barefoot Texas Tomboy: A Restored Life by Joyce McCain Hartman


texasBarefoot Texas Tomboy: A Restored Life by Joyce McCain Hartman chronicles the life and times of the author, starting in the 1930’s and stretching well into the turbulent 1960’s. Having been born in 1931, Joyce knew nothing but the thick of the Great Depression for the first and most formative years of her life, but though times were tough, she admits that she never wanted for food or shelter. In that way, she was blessed to have grown up on a farm, even though it meant she had to start pitching in as early as five years old. Another blessing she relished before it was taken from her was the undeniably close proximity of her extended family. But, as she grew older, those ties would be undone by distance—on the cusp of the Second World War, Joyce and her immediate family uprooted to Camp Creek, a town 150 miles from their closest relative. As the war amped up abroad, so did the warring factions within her nuclear family. These experiences indelibly informed her views on romantic love and marriage as a whole and would come up later in her life, when she was faced with reconciling an unplanned pregnancy with a burgeoning relationship—and then again when she had to make the difficult decision to walk away from a toxic situation. It was in God, though, that she found her true strength through it all. Her fortitude to forge onward was ever deepened by her faith, and it was that comfort that allowed her to endure any end and to take on every new beginning.

This touching memoir is both spiritually uplifting and personally empowering. Barefoot Texas Tomboy: A Restored Life offers a unique glimpse into a life lived fearlessly by a woman who defied odds and overcame ostensibly insurmountable obstacles with grace and gumption in equal measure. In her memoir, Joyce brilliantly breaks her life down into simple vignettes: each chapter focuses on a meaningful relationship in isolation or a groundbreaking moment in time, from her deferential interconnectivity with her father to her lifelong love affair with cats to her impactful work with the VA hospital. If you’re in the mood for a poignant and inspiring tale about the resilience of the human spirit, then look no further than this heartwarming book. Though it is arguably a very quick read at less than 200 pages, each page will transport you to an entirely other time and place, leaving you feeling as though you yourself have lived another life in a short span. A distinctly Christian memoir, Barefoot Texas Tomboy: A Restored Life is a beautiful testament to the power of faith.


When My Well Ran Dry by Racquel D. Innis-Shelton, MD

four stars

wellWhen My Well Ran Dry is about marriage and relationships. Author Racquel D. Innis-Shelton has written about her personal experiences with marriage and relationships, hoping to help readers who may also be working to recover from a painful past. Beyond marriage and relationships, she focuses on sharing her struggle with grief and how she maintained relationships while grieving. Her intention while writing this book was to provide a source of inspiration for those going through similar experiences, in addition to advice on the path out of despair.

Racquel D. Innis-Shelton has bravely shared the story of the dissolution of an almost seventeen year-long marriage. The book is broken up into parts titled according to the stage of grief Innis-Shelton was going through at the time. Breaking the story into parts combined with short chapters and graphics provides a quick pace to this short book. Hoping to be an inspiration of hope and resilience for readers going through the same thing, Innis-Shelton details her experience as well as the typical grieving process. Readers will learn about grief as they identify with the author’s experiences and take what they need away from the advice she offers up throughout the pages.


The Forgotten American (Shattered Dreams) by Paula B. Compton

four stars

forgottenThe Forgotten American (Shattered Dreams) is the story of Paula B. Compton’s life. She writes about her failed marriage, which fell apart after years of physical and emotional abuse. She shares about her ex-husband becoming estranged from his own daughter. She also shares about her experience with miscarriage. Facing more pain and hardships than one person should have to, Paula found a way to find peace and comfort in her story. Encouraged by her daughter to write down the stories of her life, Paula is sharing them so that other survivors of discrimination, abuse, and domestic violence might understand they are not alone and there is always hope.

A true survival story, The Forgotten American (Shattered Dreams) tells the heart-wrenching tale of Paula B. Compton’s life. Bravely writing about the struggles she has gone through, Paula is helping others with similar experiences. A well-written memoir, the reader will be able to immediately hear Compton’s voice as the teller of her own story. Split into three main parts, Compton focuses on three distinct experiences in her past. Short chapter lengths help with the pacing of the stories as readers are given an in-depth look at her life. Compton shares her feelings in this honest memoir that readers will certainly identify and empathize with.


Common Sense for the Modern Man by Jerry Bishop


modernA non-fiction account detailing the author’s advice and anecdotes relating to common sense, Common Sense for the Modern Man by Jerry Bishop explains how to best live one’s life by following simple practices that seem to be lost on many people. The author summarizes the book by stating that all of his advice follows the simple rule of: don’t do it unless you want someone else doing it to you. The book is then broken down into sections that covers topics from transportation, shopping, phones, restaurants, family relationships, music, and more. Bishop explains things such as pedestrians having the right of way, wearing your seatbelt, walking in groups, using coupons, talking on the phone, how to act on a date, and even ensuring your children behave. The last section covers miscellaneous topics like getting enough rest, eating breakfast, and how to properly use the toilet.

This book has a rather humorous tone to all of the advice that Bishop has put together. It makes sense, as it’s clear he feels frustrated by how many people seem to lack knowledge on common sense issues. Especially in today’s modern world, it does feel like people are so distracted by technology, jobs, and other issues that they forget how to perform every day tasks in the correct and courteous way. The book itself is relatively short, but it stays entertaining as each sub-section of the various topics only last for a paragraph or two. One drawback of the narrative is that the advice is all pulled from just the author, and he doesn’t really explain in much detail why he felt so compelled to write this book. With more voices, insight, and even factual information as to why using common sense is so important, this entertaining tome could be even more impactful.


The Flats of Webb’s Cove by Razcr Weed


flattsThe Flats of Webb’s Cove by Razcr Weed provides a firsthand glimpse into the life of an impoverished family of ten in Maine during the 1950s. Weed reflects on the highs and lows of his childhood including the uninsulated three-bedroom house he grew up in, his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s resourcefulness, the happiness he found in nature, his enduring faith, and much more. Photos of family members and illustrations of the era are peppered throughout this short work.

Weed’s personal account of his upbringing helps to illuminate the larger landscape of post-depression society in which families and individuals struggled profoundly. Many details from Weed’s childhood are difficult to conceive of today. For example, when describing his childhood home, Weed lists the basic amenities that his family did without including central heating, plumbing, and running water. Despite all of the hardships that Weed and his family endured, his belief in God remained strong. The Flats of Webb’s Cove points to spirituality as a tool for overcoming obstacles. In addition to his faith, Weed also celebrates his mother and her dedication to his family. Weed’s gratitude for his faith and his family is incredibly moving and at moments his writing turns deeply poetic. When reflecting on the passing of his beloved mother, Weed writes, “We all come into this world like one of a kind snowflake in a northeast blizzard of snow. When God is ready, he melts the snow and one by one we each disappear. Where does all the melted snow go?” Despite his eloquent voice, Weed’s writing provides only very brief snapshots into his childhood experiences. Sharing more detailed stories from his early years, instead of such a broad overview, would strengthen The Flats of Webb’s Cove immensely by giving readers a larger window into Weed’s impoverished upbringing and the person he has become.


A Tunnel of Vision by Christopher Dean


bisionChristopher Dean’s A Tunnel of Vision is a candid account of a life defined by the increasing darkness, both literal and figurative, caused by choroideremia. After a brief introduction, Dean opens his story with a catalogue of medical terminology intended to make the tale accessible to all, whether medical professional or layperson. Dean takes readers on a journey through the fear of impending blindness and painful personal struggles he faced since his diagnosis with the degenerative retinal disease as a young teen. Prejudice and lack of understanding surrounding his “inability” have made Dean an advocate for diversity and tolerance, a message he boldly shares through this forthright retelling of his medical, marital, professional, and emotional trials.

A Tunnel of Vision has opened our eyes to the struggles of those whose eyes fail them and the far-reaching devastation of such a condition. Although the anecdotes are brief, Dean manages to give readers an authentic perspective on his life and a personal connection to his story. Dean’s brave and completely honest account of his struggles is admirable, especially in light of the message he shares. While the sentiment is a bit heavy-handed at times, the unflinching promotion of inclusion is timely message that rings true in this modern era of discrimination.


Lecture Notes on Physics by Sujaul Chowdhury

four stars

notesLecture Notes on Physics serves as both lectures notes and a textbook. Broken up into four parts, the lectures were collected by Sujaul Chowdhury after he instructed several courses to second year Physics majors, third year Physics majors, and fourth year Physics majors at Shahjalal University of Science. The book serves as a textbook as well as study guide for the dedicated pupil. Part A focuses on Mathematical Physics, covering topics such as vectors, special functions, and complex analysis. Part B focuses on Classical Mechanics, and it covers Newtonian Mechanics, Hamiltonian formulation of Newtonian Mechanics, Kinematics, and more. Part C focuses on Classical Electrodynamics, revisiting vector analysis as well as diving into electrostatics and magnetostatics. Part D concludes the textbook with an in-depth look at Solid State Physics.

Upon first glance, Lecture Notes on Physics, to the everyday person—one who is not studying at Shahjalal University of Science—is intimidating at best. Covering a vast array of topics in about 500 hundred pages, Chowdhury’s work is daunting, yet something to applaud. The notes are as extensive as they are exhaustive; the examples that accompany them are clean and straightforward. As a professor, Chowdhury knows how to cover his bases and anticipate the student’s (or in this case, reviewer’s) questions. This is not to say the book is easy. We definitely didn’t understand 95% of the topics (though this is no fault but our own). However, Sujaul Chowdhury’s Lecture Notes on Physics makes us think that, had we had this book in school, we definitely would have passed our Physics class. Probably.


The Change Agent: From 30,000 Feet by Bruce Barcomb

four stars

changeThe Change Agent:From 30,000 Feet by Bruce Barcomb is about the journey of self-discovery and actualization that comes from adapting negative thinking to more positive outlooks. With many examples from his own life experiences of loss, such as his sister’s brutal murder and his mom’s death after battling cancer, Barcomb describes helpful methods for dealing with the grief and anger that come from loss and trauma. Peppered throughout with spiritual and historical quotes along with parallels to popular movies, the book remains compelling, relatable, and moving throughout its entirety.

Though at many times somewhat repetitive, large portions of the book are unique accounts of the author’s personal struggles and insights into the ways he was able to overcome and move past them. When a serial killer murdered his sister while he was still a teenager, Barcomb’s life was greatly affected with sadness and nightmares for many years after. The riveting story of events surrounding this horrible tragedy that involves several young women’s deaths leads finally to closure for the families of the victims, and finally to the author’s ability to move forward in his life. The book also discusses universal life experiences such as the different forms of love, the trials of adolescence, the value of positive thinking, and even the author’s take on the meaning of life. Spirituality is often mentioned, mostly from a Christian perspective, but also encompassing a wide range of religious and spiritual viewpoints. Delving into psychology and the usefulness of group therapy, the book is a well-rounded account of positive change in the human mind and the need to do what one can to constantly be improving their thoughts and their lives.


On The Monster’s Back by Robert D. Lamson


monsterOn The Monster’s Back is the incredible true story of Souren Barkev Tashjian’s life. Robert D. Lamson adapted the autobiographical writings of his great-uncle into this more cohesive story of history, courage, and love. At nineteen years old Souren is sent down a path of survival, which will require all of his wit, courage, and resilience in the era of genocide around the time of World War I in Turkey. Having to escape capture more than once, Souren’s bravest move may have been falling in love during this tumultuous time. This thrilling true story of the Armenian Genocide through a survivor’s eyes will envelop readers in one man’s journey, while also informing them on this too often overlooked historical event.

Robert D. Lamson has delivered an epic tale of survival during the time of the Armenian Genocide in WWI-era Turkey. Lamsonhas flawlessly adapted the auto-biographical stories of Souren Barkev Tashjian into third person prose with additional historical context, and contextually relevant characters Souren had not originally written about. This epic tale intertwines historical facts with exciting stories of evading capture, survival, and love. Covering stories over the course of Souren’s lifetime, the author delivers a well-written story with moments that almost seem unbelievable. This incredible true story will draw in readers as they follow along with Souren’s life from a young boy to a wise man and in the process learn more about the Armenian Genocide.


Speed Bumps and Angels by Cherie Kirby Hill Wren

four stars

speedSitting down to read Speed Bumps and Angels: A Personal Journey is like sitting down at the feet of one’s fascinating grandmother and listening as she shares tales from her life. Cherie Kirby Hill Wren keeps her life stories alive in her memoir. From falling into the lake at just two-years-old to saving another young boy going under years later, the author expresses how life’s challenges can be turned into learning experiences. But that example is just the start of her beneficial storytelling. Cherie Kirby Hill Wren was shot point-blank in the face by her abusive husband, and her description of the event is likely to brings tears to the reader’s eyes. Her story doesn’t end in violence and sadness though. Instead it concludes with the author expressing the concept that no matter how many challenges she’s faced, “God has a sense of humor.”

Cherie Kirby Hill Wren offers an honest to goodness look into one’s life. She shares the pains and sorrows along with triumphs and joys of a woman born in the early 1940s. Readers shouldn’t expect a fictional story mainly intended to entertain. Instead, they should expect to find just what the title implies – speed bumps and a few angels along the way. Occasionally, the timeline is a bit hard to follow, but if a reader has ever sat with a worldly and wise member of our older generation then he or she will be fully prepared to read Speed Bumps and Angels: A Personal Journey. Cherie Kirby Hill Wren has done a fine job keeping her stories alive within the pages of her memoir -something that too many have let slip away. Speed Bumps and Angels sets a great example for others to do the same – share their past, share their stories, and share the history of every day people.


ABC Club: End of an Era by Sunny W

four stars

abc clubPart memoir, part non-fiction account, ABC Club: End of an Era by Sunny W tells the story of a rehabilitation center that changed the life of a great number of addicts and alcoholics for the better. The book opens by explaining why the author wanted to write a book about the ABC Club, as the center, and the people who operated it, changed her life for the better by helping her recover from her addictions. The book opens with a number of short chapters, as the history of the center is explained in the beginning of the narrative, and readers get to know Danny and Helen Leahy who ran and operated the center for over thirty-five years. We learn about the life and struggles of the author, Sunny W, and how she ended up at the ABC Club. This background information is helpful to paint a full picture of the center and what it offered to the people who sought out help there. The majority of the book however is composed of interviews with hundreds of individuals who attended the club, their personal stories, and how it changed their lives in short accounts. Through these interviews we get to see all different kinds of drug and alcohol addictions, and how Danny and Helen helped these people find a better place in life.

One of the best things about this book is how it covers so many different kinds of stories, from the voices of the people who actually went to the ABC Club for help. Although Sunny W is the author, and the book starts with her story and experiences at the ABC Club, a fuller picture is painted as we continuously learn more and more about the experiences of so many individuals who went there. It is almost like a yearbook of those who came to Danny and Helen for assistance and guidance. While the book is intriguing and interesting for all that it offers, it is likely that it would appeal mostly to those who are familiar with the ABC Club, or struggled with their own drug or alcohol issues. Nevertheless, it is clear that the author put a great time of effort into the book, conducting and organizing so many interviews and sharing them in a well-organized narrative.


The Soccer Manual by Gefeson C. Elizeu

four stars

soccerAn informative and easy to follow guide that details the various plays, strategies, and scenarios in soccer, The Soccer Manual: Position by Position by Gefeson C. Elizeu shows players, coaches, and trainers alike how to perfect the game in colorful illustrations. The book explains the functions of all the different positions, while teaching specific plays to reveal helpful techniques for those in defense, midfield, and offense. In-depth illustrations are found on nearly every page, which provides a visual explaining each play step by step. The illustrations are labeled so that the reader can understand exactly what is going on, and which figures represent which position. Fundamentals are explained, as are more complex plays, thereby providing content for both beginners and the more expert soccer players and fans.

Elizeu succeeds in making this book easily accessible for all kinds of soccer enthusiasts. While there is often a lot happening in each illustration, the artwork is organized in a way that makes it comprehendible for anyone. The author provides a nearly complete account of the game, so that readers can find strategies and illustrations for a wide variety of scenarios. It is clear that a lot of time and research went into planning out this book, just as it is apparent that the author is a diehard fan of the game. For soccer pros or even those who are maybe just interested in getting started in the game, The Soccer Manual is a great resource for one of the world’s most popular sports.


My Writer’s Sampler: Exercises in Learning to Write Fiction by Marie Brack


brackHow can I make my characters “relatable” to readers? Is there a certain type of structure my story should follow? What are the advantages/disadvantages of writing in the first person versus writing in the third person? How can I get my book published, and, when I do, how can I market it to my target audience? If you’re an aspiring fiction writer, you probably have many questions about how to write a compelling piece that others will want, and be able, to read. These questions can be overwhelming, and, sometimes, they can make a wannabe-writer abandon his or her story before it’s been told. But, don’t fret. Don’t throw in the towel or throw your hands up in frustration. Instead, grab your favorite electronic device, and read this book. My Writer’s Sampler, Exercises in Learning to Write Fiction by Marie Brack is an approachable, highly organized text that aspiring fiction writers can use to navigate most, if not all, of the questions and other obstacles that have heretofore stood in their way. Presented in a reader-friendly format that cycles through the alphabet twice, My Writer’s Sampler comprehensively addresses scores of writing-related topics in a very understandable, edifying manner. The first section carries readers from arc to zeugma, providing explanations of 26+ different elements of writing, each of which are bolstered by recommended readings from well-known authors, as well as by Brack’s own yarns. The second cycle carries readers from abbreviation to zombies, discussing dozens of other stylistic and practical issues a writer may face in the writing process; and, the appendices provide insight and instruction on what the writer can do once that process is done (namely, self-publishing and marketing strategy).

My Writer’s Sampler, Exercises in Learning to Write Fiction by Marie Brack is an invaluable tool for beginner and intermediate fiction writers. The format, table of contents, and index make specific subjects very easy to find, giving readers a quick, reliable way to get around their writing roadblocks—and, as a whole, the text makes fiction writing more accessible, thereby making the reader’s journey from wannabe-writer to writer a much easier, more fulfilling one.


You’ll Do Anything for Her by Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Hosier Conger


herRelationships are often the centers of our lives and when the centers of our lives are unbalanced, it can feel like everything else in life is too. Relationships that do not seem to be working properly can be detrimental to our feelings of self-worth and self-confidence and these negative feelings can invade every aspect of our lives. In You’ll Do Anything for Her: A New Relationship Perspective, Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Conger begin to unpack some of the situations that may arise in relationships and how individuals respond to them. Dr. Hosier and Conger emphasize the ways that our life experiences, especially those in our childhoods, have an impact on adult relationships. An experience that we had previously may lead to cyclical negative behaviors and Dr. Hosier and Conger discuss what steps and changes in mindset can be taken to end arguments and thoughts that may be holding a relationship back. No relationship is perfect, but by taking a step back to consider one’s self and what one’s self needs to truly flourish, a relationship can reach a place of more understanding and improved communication.

You’ll Do Anything for Her: A New Relationship Perspective by Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Conger is, as the authors point out, not for every individual or every relationship and therapy can be a good alternative. Unlike most relationship self-help books, You’ll Do Anything for Her is somewhat anecdotal, presenting stories and situations that will not apply to every reader or every relationship. The book is also written as a series of one-sentence paragraphs, with the intention of pushing readers to slow down and really absorb each thought. However, this disjointed writing style can also make it difficult to stay engaged and follow the line of thinking that the authors intend. You’ll Do Anything for Her is not intended to be a panacea for relationships, but should instead be viewed as one potential tool for understanding the frameworks of relationships. It should be noted that the author’s two books, You’ll Do Anything for Her and You’ll Do Anything for Him do not present different information, nor are they written more specifically for one gender over the other. If looking for multiple self-help books or a self-help book catered specifically toward one gender, another book may be needed.


You’ll Do Anything for Him by Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Hosier Conger


himRelationships can be confusing. Relationships can be hard work. Sometimes relationships can even be detrimental to our feelings of self-worth and self-confidence. In You’ll Do Anything for Him: A New Relationship Perspective, Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Conger begin to unpack some of the situations that may arise in relationships and how individuals respond to them. Dr. Hosier and Conger dig into the ways that childhood experiences have an impact on adult relationships and what steps can be taken to end cycles of arguments and thoughts that may be holding a relationship back. No relationship is perfect, but by taking a step back to consider one’s self and what one’s self needs to truly flourish, a relationship can reach a place of more understanding and improved communication.

You’ll Do Anything for Him: A New Relationship Perspective by Dr. Maureen Hosier and Berta Conger is, as the authors point out, not for every individual or every relationship. Unlike other relationship self-help books, You’ll Do Anything for Him is somewhat anecdotal, presenting stories and situations that will not apply to every reader or every relationship. The book is also written as a series of one-sentence paragraphs, with the intention of pushing readers to slow down and really absorb each thought. However, this disjointed writing style can also make it difficult to stay engaged and follow the line of thinking that the authors intend. You’ll Do Anything for Him is not intended to be a panacea for relationships, but should instead be viewed as one potential tool for understanding the frameworks of relationships.


Infinitely More by J. Francisco

four stars

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 2.10.23 PMJ. Francisco’s Infinitely More is a powerful story of overcoming obstacles and finding the beauty and meaning in even some of the darkest and most hopeless situations that life presents. Infinitely More is a memoir of Francisco’s life written as a brief collection of short stories and memories. Francisco’s journey through life begins in a small town in Brazil where she speaks only Portuguese and lives with her mother and two sisters. While Francisco’s father is not always around, his presence is a constant pressure, leading every member of the family to feel fear, rejection, and disregard for their feelings. Her father is a consistent figure throughout all of her stories, even when he is not physically around. He shapes Francisco and changes her in more ways than she can know at the time. In many ways, her father is the force that drives her to become more than she ever thought possible, making her want to be more than just a scared little girl in a small town in Brazil. With dreams of continuing her studies and learning to speak English, Francisco begins to realize that while the path in life may not always be clear, if you have faith and persevere, life can provide infinitely more than ever expected.

Francisco’s writing is straightforward and honest, with no holds barred. She writes openly and frankly about experiences such as abuse, poverty, and postpartum depression. While there is not much character development in any character other than herself, the growth that Francisco reveals in her story is enormous. The chapters are all rather short, and provide vignette-like snapshots of Francisco’s life as she was growing up in Brazil with a family who was not always easy to deal with. While the story could use a thorough edit, it is still a moving and inspirational piece that many are sure to relate with.


Who Cares About Health Care? by Genrich Krasko

four stars

kraskoGenrich Krasko’s informative non-fiction book Who Cares About Health Care? A Look at the US and Other Nations is a well-organized account that scrutinizes the history of health care in America, and compares our system to six other countries. The book begins by looking at how health care has changed in the United States over the years, taking a deep dive into the history of health care in the country. Health care systems around the world are then scrutinized as we take a look at how health care functions in the nations of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Israel. The book then focuses on Obamacare, discusses the state of America’s health care system today, and finally evaluates how we are different from other countries who provide more comprehensive health care. With a dedication that praises Richard Nixon’s health care plan back in 1974, it is clear the author believes that we are in need of a better system. The book ends with an appendix which covers President Nixon’s special message to congress about a proposed comprehensive health care plan that never came to pass. From the state of our current political discourse, it is clear we still have a long way to go before we get to where we need to be when it comes to taking care of the health of our people.

The book includes many figures, graphs, rules, and the other sometimes complicated elements of what makes health care work. The author has laid out the material in an easy to follow manner that allows readers to digest the information without getting lost. Krasko admits that a great deal of his source material has come from the internet and is readily accessible to anyone who seeks it out. That being said, the fact that this book compiles so much information into one volume in a manner that allows the reader to compare and contrast health care systems around the world with what we have in the United States makes it offer a much more complete picture. It is by no means a simple read, as there is a great deal of information here, but anyone who is interested in health care and how the US system has evolved will be sure to enjoy this comprehensive book.


A Look Back Over My Shoulder by Garry Fabian

four stars

shoulderA Look Back Over My Shoulder is more than simply a survivor’s account of the his experiences during the Holocaust. It is a memoir that tells the story of author Garry Fabian’s entire life. While most people are aware that life became very difficult for Jews in much of Europe after Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, Fabian is able to provide a detailed, first-hand account of what it was really like. His early years were spent constantly being uprooted and seeking shelter with his family while his father and mother desperately tried to make a meager income. While somewhat settled in Prague, Garry and his parents, along with many other Jewish people, were forced to board a train and then march a few miles to the ghetto of Theresienstadt. They spent the next three years of their lives there, and thousands of the other Jewish people forced there didn’t survive. The book goes on from this horrid period of his life, telling about Garry’s years growing up in Australia, his marriage, his various jobs, his children, and his grandchildren.

Interestingly, since this is not the first edition of his book, the author is able to tell about the process of writing it. He is able to describe getting it translated to German, finding a publisher, and also discuses of some of the acclaim he received. The subject matter in the first part of the book is extremely dark and at times hard to read because of descriptions of things like disease and pestilence, and telling of children being forced to sew Nazi uniforms. Food was served that was little more than dirty water in a bowl. As Fabian goes on to tell about his life after the Holocaust, he writes of his training as an electrician, his life in the navy, his involvement in the Jewish community, and many other twists and turns along the way. While parts of this section of the book are a little bit slow, it is relieving and uplifting that Fabian goes on to have a family and a fairly normal life after experiencing such horror.


Stupid Stories About Famous People by Andy Martello

four stars

storiesFor someone who has worked in the entertainment industry for over thirty years, Andy Martello does not consider himself to be famous. He claims that if there’s an A-List in Hollywood, he would fall somewhere on the ZZZ-List. Although he’s been performing in Las Vegas for a number of years, and many would even consider him “Las Vegas Famous” this amount of notoriety does not really translate outside the state of Nevada. This memoir is a collection of stories about Martello’s interactions with big-named stars like Audrey Hepburn, Michael Jordan, and Ted Kennedy. Throughout the book, Martello has lunch with Tony Curtis, sings with Buddy Guy, works a gig that leads him to Gladys Knight, and runs into Isaac Hayes. Each story is told in a humorous, down-to-earth manner that makes Martello’s accounts entertaining to read.

While this could be called a memoir in some aspects, it reads more like a collection of essays that focus on larger-than-life personalities with well-known names. It’s interesting to read accounts of famous people in a variety of situations, as it humanizes them in a way that paints them in a different light most aren’t fortunate enough to experience. Martello succeeds at maintaining a playful consistency throughout each encounter, but allows each meeting to offer up something fun and unique. With a collection of stars from a variety of different professions across the A-List, there is sure to be a story to appeal to every reader.


Here’s Your Host by Andy Martello

four stars

hostAuthor and professional game show host Andy Martello reveals what makes a great host in this informative and entertaining book. Here’s Your Host: Insights and Interviews with Game Show Greats takes an in-depth look into how television hosting has changed and evolved over the decades, to where it remains as a kind of dying profession today. With over thirty years of experience as an entertainer who has worked under the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip, Martello is a knowledgeable artist, performer, and host who shares stories, anecdotes, and tricks of the trade that are sure to be helpful to anyone who might be interested in becoming a host for a game show or talk show alike. Famous hosts are profiled, interviewing styles are compared and contrasted, and certain well-known entertainers are even interviewed inside the book. Ranging from the likes of Joey Fatone to Jerry Springer to George Gray and Todd Newton, there are an abundance of personalities to learn about as you read this account of what it means to be a great host.

The book starts out by introducing the author, Andy Martello, and his experiences in the entertainment industry. We get to know about his background and the kinds of places he’s worked in, as well as what makes him so passionate about hosting. The narrative then moves along to a conversation with Richard Lawrence, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. Each subsequent chapter focuses on a famous host like Jerry Springer, Joey Fatone, Pat Finn, and Marc Summers, just to name a few. Each host then discusses what it takes to be a great host, their strengths and weaknesses, contestants, influences, and favorite moments. It’s interesting to learn about these entertainment professionals and get insight from what they think about hosting. Regardless of whether or not you have any interest in being a host, this book would appeal to anyone who is interested in game shows or the television industry.


Touched by Tennessee by Madelyn Rohrer


touchedMadelyn Rohrer’s Touched by Tennessee is a collection of eight short nonfiction stories that are all somehow connected to Tennessee. The stories have varied subjects. First, an invasive plant species–from its introduction to an interesting solution involving herds of goats and guard dogs. Second, the worst earthquake in this country’s history and how it lead to the creation of the scenic Reelfoot State Park. Third, a suspenseful tale of familial love and the bond between parents and their adopted son. Fourth, a song about a little, brown church, born out of one man’s vision and made a reality by another man. Fifth, a family business that has survived decades and become a pillar of the community. Sixth, a little girl with a passion for cars and a guardian angel. Seventh, another invasive species, this time wild hogs, brought to the U.S. from Spain by Hernando de Soto. Eighth, an impressive woman–the first female doctor in the U.S. Army and the first U.S. female prisoner of war, as well as the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Although each story has a worthy subject, they do not have a strong unifying thread and would have benefited from either more careful curation or perhaps a more narrow subject. As it is, it is unclear as to what an ideal audience for this book would be. The author did an excellent job of communicating with primary sources, including families of the historical figures. However, some of the secondary sources could have been stronger; for instance, Wikipedia is not necessarily reliable. Rohrer’s passion for oral storytelling is also evident; these stories read much like the reminiscences of older relatives due to their frequent tangents and how they pass down the details of events that may not have changed the world, but certainly changed lives.


Making Sense of Me by Diana Ketterman

four stars

51WYOfWhE3L._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_Making Sense of Me is a workbook intended to help children understand and improve mental health. Ketterman’s belief is that “everyone experiences depression and anxiety at some point in life.” That said, Making Sense of Me is geared for children, ages seven to thirteen, and teaches them “how to identify emotions and to realize the power they have through the process.” Divided into twelve lessons, the design of the curriculum-based workbook suits both classroom and home environs. The first in a series of Mastering Mental Health Curriculum, this groundbreaking book paves the way to “breaking the silence and ending the shame of mental illness.”

Ketterman’s book opens with a simple reflection on flowers and how they affect the five senses. Using that as a powerful springboard, Ketterman launches into “how thoughts are made.” The lessons build on each other. By the fifth lesson Ketterman addresses how thought processes, memories, and especially emotions have positive and adverse effects on the brain. Included in each lesson are a flurry of thought-provoking activities, many of which are subjective questions that center on six reflective themes: senses, memories, thoughts, ways children can help themselves in situations, and ways to help others in situations. Ketterman shifts gear slightly in lesson nine by introducing two fictional characters, Sofia and Ethan, who have their peculiarities. Various scenarios provide opportunities for children to observe the character’s differences and develop an understanding of why they function the way they do. Ketterman rounds out the twelve lessons with a review lesson where children can apply what they’ve learned. In closing, Ketterman says it best, “It is increasingly apparent that we as a society must do something to enable children to have a voice, to teach them to identify their emotions, and to help them build resiliency in being overcomers to depression and anxiety.”


Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife by Barbara K. McNally


woundedMany people have seen Forrest Gump, American Sniper, or another movie that deals with the topic of war. War and the outcomes that it can have on an individual’s mind and body are certainly no secret in today’s society. In fact, with continued advances in technology and the rise of social media, the violence and tragedy of war are becoming less taboo subjects. Still, for many, the effects of war are something that are seen on the television screen, feared, mourned, and then, slowly, over time, pushed to the back of the mind until they are nearly forgotten. However, some individuals do not have this luxury, some individuals must continue to fear or mourn the effects of war every day for the rest of their lives, and many of these individuals have never left American soil. Barbara K. McNally’s Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife is a collection of stories and insights into the lives of spouses, partners, and families of wounded American warriors. Through these stories McNally touches on everything from suicide to sex drive, giving lives and names to people who sometimes just become statistics. As McNally thoughtfully reveals, partners and spouses of wounded warriors can also become wounded and burdened themselves. As McNally breathes life into the stories of these survivors, two things become clear: the female counterparts of warriors are often expected to become full-time caregivers and out of terrible situations, beautiful things can grow.

I was initially skeptical of Barbara K. McNally’s Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife because of the use of the word ‘wife’ in the title. However, rest assured that McNally includes stories that depict wounded female warriors and wounded husbands, as well as couples with same-sex partners, though there are fewer of these kinds of stories. This one-sidedness is my only criticism of the entire book and it happens simply because there are still so many stories left to be told. McNally taps into a population that has often been pushed to the back and given no place to have a voice, and instead brings them to the front,


Washed Away: From Darkness to Light by Nikki Dubose

four stars

washedNikki Dubose’s Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a modern take on an old genre, namely the salvation narrative. It begins with a brief anecdote of the author at her worst, before providing a chronological memoir of Dubose’s life. Dubose’s early childhood was riddled with abuse and neglect. She is brutalized by her stepfather, sexually molested by a family friend, and forced to deal with her mother’s mental illness, which results in yet more abuse. Dubose internalizes this abuse, and the reader witnesses her become her own worst enemy, hounded by the voices in her head that tell her she is disgusting, ugly, fat, and worthless. These voices are only silenced by her compulsive behavior, which includes round after round of binging and purging. Despite all of this, Dubose manages to become a well-known model, which unfortunately only exacerbates her eating disorder and body dysmorphia. Dubose only truly begins to heal after her mother’s untimely, but not unexpected, death. The tragedy allows her to begin to forgive not only those who harmed her, but herself as well.

Dubose tells the reader early on that she writes to raise awareness of mental health issues and to provide support to those who suffer as she once did. Indeed, the epilogue contains a step-by-step guide to beginning the process of healing as well as numerous resources for those who need help. For fans of the genre and for others in Dubose’s position, this book is a welcome addition. Dubose’s story is easy to read, and, unlike similar tales, Dubose chronicles the many false starts and relapses that accompany such illnesses and addictions. She does not leave out any painful details, but instead reveals how truly difficult and life-changing recovery can be. At times, such detail can be repetitive. Furthermore, the language is occasionally ornate, even flowery. Nonetheless, readers will appreciate Dubose’s honesty and should find her story both moving and inspirational.


Blueprint to Your Success by Dan Pederson

four stars

blueprintBlueprint to Your Success by Dan Pederson goes beyond the scope of most self-help manuals in that it encompasses all aspects of the reader’s life. From health and fitness to financial and business planning to personal, social, and family matters, Blueprint to Your Success really takes into account every facet of the modern adult’s life. The book begins with planning, as Dan Pederson posits that planning is the font from which all other positive life events flow. He boldly claims, “Tomorrow’s success is the result of today’s planning.” Not only does he provide the reader with a plethora of helpful, easy-to-remember statements such as this, Dan also gives him or her the necessary tools to set realistic, attainable goals for himself or herself with the help of guiding questions to go along with each chapter. Much like a workbook, Blueprint to Your Success leaves room for the reader to jot down the answers to important questions, such as, “What is my mission in life?” and “Where would I like to be five years from now in my job, business, family life, and personal improvement?” It’s these probing, thoughtful questions that form the building blocks necessary to lay a foundation for a happier, healthier, more prosperous life.

If you have ever considered picking up a self-improvement book or seeking out a life coach to help you manage your day-to-day and over-arching stresses, then you should absolutely give Blueprint to Your Success a try. It’s lighthearted and personable, like an old friend, but at the same time, it gets down to business and doesn’t waste any time with small talk or meaningless digressions. Let Dan Pederson, who has a wealth of practical, hands-on knowledge to impart from having worked as a laborer and hoisted himself up to leadership positions through perseverance and hard work, take you on a journey of self-discovery and self-actualization. By the end of the book, you will have outlined your life, your goals, your hopes, and your dreams and made a plan (or a blueprint, if you will) for concrete ways to achieve each one and become your best self. Truly, this book is like having a pocket-sized life coach at your beck and call, day and night. The steps that Dan will walk you through are not only pragmatic; they’re also incredibly easy. You might kick yourself for not starting sooner!


Acanemia: A Memoir of Life in the Halls of Higher Learning by Lawrence E. Hussman

four stars

Lawrence E. Hussman’s Acanemia: A Memoir of Life in the Halls of Higher Learning is a detailed account of Hussman’s experiences as a professor of English, mainly at the Ohio branch campus of Wright State University. Hussman intersperses his personal and professional memories with current observations and analysis, a process that takes what could be a dry account to a higher level. The reader not only learns of Hussman’s early life and schooling, but also of his many adventures later in his career, such as his experiences teaching in Poland as a Fulbright scholar and his work with Sam Hall, self-proclaimed “counterterrorist.” The memoir also addresses the current state of American higher education. Hussman points to many of the usual suspects: ridiculously high salaries for university presidents and athletic coaches, an ongoing tendency to view higher education as a business, and, of course, American culture, which “for some time hasn’t been a culture that instills or honors bookishness.” Hussman reserves much of his ire, however, for university faculty members, whom he often considers cowards, unwilling to challenge the status quo and regain their rightful places as “guardians of integrity and standards.” Much of the memoir also details Hussman’s fascination with and scholarship on American literature, culminating in his magnum opus, Desire and Disillusionment: A Guide to American Fiction Since 1890, a text that explores the work of many of the most prominent early-to-mid twentieth century writers. Hussman is especially interested in what he sees as a theme running through these works, “the desire to have it all and the disappointment with what passes for the all when gained.” Hussman’s memoir follows a similar trajectory. Though he begins as a young man eager to join what he sees as “the greatest profession possible,” namely, becoming a professor of English, Hussman’s journey becomes an exploration of personal disillusionment, particularly in terms of what he expected from academia.

Hussman’s memoir is interesting and well told. There are a few missteps, however. Hussman’s assessment of the state of academia, for example, fails to consider the current, dismal job market and completely ignores the reality that the number of PhDs greatly exceeds the number of available tenure-track positions. An additional off note is sounded by Hussman’s treatment of women; he is often vaguely condescending and oblivious to his own male privilege. Indeed, he eventually reveals that he has a reputation as a “sexual harasser” because of his propensity to date female colleagues and grad students. Hussman defends his reputation by arguing that he “always treated them with respect, all were age appropriate (the youngest… being thirty-five), most had initiated the affair, and all but [one] became [his] good friends after the romance had faded.” Hussman’s blindness in this area leaves the reader with their own sense of disillusionment, but it does not diminish the allure of Hussman’s story or his insight into the state of higher education in America. Acanemia is ultimately the story of a brilliant and flawed human being, and one that most readers will find both engaging and enlightening.


Unwanted Love Story: My True Love Story by Herb Nolan


unwantedUnwanted Love Story: My True Love Story, a memoir by Herb Nolan, tells the intimate life story of a Canadian man who came from a troubled past, but as he attests, he “lived to tell about it.” Born on April 1st, 1933, Herbert Nolan—née Herbert Hungerford—unwittingly entered a family that comprised a mother who wanted to abort him, a father who would abandon him, and a sister who grew jealous and resentful of his existence. Despite these challenges, Herbert remained ever the optimist. When he was refused the sale of his first car for having an illegitimate last name, he simply changed his name. When the Vancouver Police force rejected him, he trudged forward and ended up working for the Great Northern Railway. Nothing would stand in his way—and though he began life loveless, Herbert has ended up with a more beautiful love story than he ever could have imagined for himself. He and his gorgeous wife still reside in Vancouver and have four children and seven grandchildren to warm their hearts.

Told from a first-person perspective, this memoir has a unique voice, the kind that sticks in your mind even after you’ve put down the pages. Unwanted Love Story: My True Love Story is peppered with exclamation points and bouts of capitalization that really bring the language off the page, or off the screen, if you’re reading it online. Regardless of how you read it, this memoir is sure to transport you to a different time and place, namely Vancouver in the 20th century.


Scratch the News: Filipino Americans in Our Midst by Cristina DC Pastor

four stars

scratchIn triumph and tragedy, Filipinos have always found a way to figure prominently in the news. Scratch the news and chances are, a Filipino is wedged somewhere between the folds; he could be a whistleblower, a witness, a victim, a suspect, or a casual bystander. While writing about her community, Pastor saw how Filipinos and Filipino Americans manage to mix and mingle in the media and try their best to stay out of trouble. The badge “model minority” seemed to apply to her people and somehow it couldn’t be helped. It could be the soldier in Iraq awarded for his bravery or the nurse who helped save lives in 9/11, whoever they are, Scratch the News honors their lives.

This is a wonderful sampling of the crème de la crème of the Filipino community. Shining examples to any young person of any background that hard work, perseverance, determination, and compassion will make a difference in their own community. Pastor has collected a poignant anthology of vignettes chronicling the trials, tribulations, and epic successes of an underrepresented culture. Throughout each interview, we see a theme of strong family values and the subjects wanting to better themselves. Their feelings of national pride are keenly felt at every point of the stories. Together, they are a beautiful collection of personal experiences, acutely reflective of the Filipino spirit.


Vietnam, Ptsd, USMC, Black-Americans and Me by John H. Jordan

four stars

jordanJohn H. Jordan details his time serving in Vietnam, and the aftermath of how the conflict affected the rest of his life. Part memoir, part non-fiction account that delves into the commonplace of soldiers suffering from PTSD after returning from Vietnam, this book paints a realistic picture of how damaging this war really was. With a title like Vietnam, Ptsd, USMC, Black-Americans and Me, it’s rather evident from the start that this book is going to be exploring a lot of topics, and the contents inside do not disappoint. Jordan thoroughly describes the hellish aspects of war, especially a terrifying conflict like the Vietnam War, where conditions were often rather atrocious. The author researches why so many U.S. veterans who served in this conflict were haunted by psychological nightmares for years and years after leaving Southeast Asia. Some studies show that upward of 271,000 veterans are suffering from PTSD, with many of their symptoms getting worse as time goes on.

While the book is a study on veterans, soldiers, and Vietnam itself, the author also filters his unique perspective throughout the book, offering anecdotes about what it meant to be an African American man fighting in this conflict. Jordan details how he served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, eventually being honorably discharged from the military after serving in the Vietnam War. The narrative is well-organized and clearly well-thought out. While the topics offered are plenty, the author does a good job of connecting the various subjects together in a streamlined way that provides an interesting and enjoyable reading experience. This book would be an intriguing read for anyone interested in the after-effects of the Vietnam War, or PTSD and how it affects people in general.


History With A Grain of Salt: Book III by Zeno Singer


historyZeno Singer’s History With A Grain of Salt: Book III, the Middle Ages is the third in a series of books that attempt to present history in narrative form. Singer’s aim is to deliver history as a series of interesting, and often, humorous stories, arguing that if one “tell[s] events in a humorous way with ‘a grain of salt’ or common sense, it lends a somewhat ironic tone to the story, and then the causal links between events become clear. All this contributes to easier memorizing and actually enjoying the otherwise ‘boring’ history and stories to which you are listening.” Singer’s project is ambitious, and this ambition is immediately evident in Book III. Singer begins with Attila the Hun and continues from there, attempting to hit all of the major events and figures of the Middle Ages, including the fall of the Roman Empire, the creation of Islam, the Crusades, the Vikings, Genghis Khan, the Inquisition, Marco Polo, the Great Schism, the Black Plague, and Joan of Arc.

Singer does manage to keep the reader interested in the stories he tells, despite some repetition, and his text would most likely be useful to a complete novice, a fact Singer acknowledges by subtitling his text, “For Young People Who Want Instant Answers.” More educated scholars will be perturbed by Singer’s odd syntax (at one point, he refers to the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus as “wearing two significant names”) and overuse of exclamation points, as well as his habit of lending credence to long-debunked stereotypes of the Middle Ages, such as his repeated references to the Dark Ages, a term that most modern scholars almost never use, and a light smattering of anti-Catholicism; his portrait of the medieval church is unflattering, to say the least, and shows almost none of the respect with which he treats Islam. Additionally, even though Singer acknowledges that the Inquisition was most active in the Early Modern Era, he still devotes a great deal of time to it in his text, along with brief references to witch hunts, almost exclusively an Early Modern, rather than medieval, phenomenon, both of which perpetuate a stereotype of the Middle Ages as a barbaric period, populated by savages without much to offer in terms of achievements. Nonetheless, Singer’s text moves quickly and provides an entertaining introduction to the time and could serve as a useful introduction to a complex and fascinating period of history.


With Ballet in My Soul: Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario by Eva Maze


balletA fascinating life story about a remarkable woman named Eva Maze who had a thriving career as an impresario that lasted for more than forty years, With Ballet in My Soul is an excellent memoir about one woman’s world travels, and how the places we travel to can shape our lives. Growing up in Bucharest, Romania, the narrative told in Maze’s own words spans the course of her life, following her leaving Romania in 1939 and immigrating to the United States, with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer often on her mind. After getting married in Brooklyn, New York, Maze eventually returns to Europe, and then travels to Asia, finding her calling not as a dancer, but as an impresario, who put together many successful theatrical performances. With intriguing images following along the rich text, the life of Maze comes alive on the page, as real world events such as the building of the Berlin Wall, the Munich massacre, and the rise and fall of Pan Am airlines are discussed through Maze’s viewpoint. The story is told in a variety of styles, including straight-forward commentary and entertaining anecdotes detailing the business side of theater and dance, revelations about personalities who were part of those worlds across the decades, and Maze’s own motivation for being an impresario, with details of her personal life sprinkled throughout the text, allowing the reader to get to know the author in an intimate fashion.

This is a well-constructed autobiography about a woman who has accomplished much in her years. With beautiful photographs throughout the book, accompanying a pleasing design that makes the memoir feel as if it is almost a scrapbook, the story is engaging, well-written, and constantly surprising. Separated into chapters based on where Eva was living at the time, this book is a study not only about one woman’s career and life, but in the places we go, and how where we are in the world affects our viewpoint, ideology, and desires. What this memoir succeeds at that so many others fail to accomplish, is revealing a story that is not only a joy to read for those who know Eva, but for those who don’t. Many will be interested in reading about her exploits, and with a vibrant life such as this, it is clear why Eva Maze’s story is one that deserves to be told.


Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age by Maya Thiagarajan

four stars

tigerIf you’ve ever wondered, in earnest, “Why are all the Asian kids on the math team?” or “Is rote memorization an effective teaching technique?” then Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age by Maya Thiagarajan is for you. This modern parenting book, written more like an intimate story of a life’s journey, offers insightful advice for rearing respectful, well-rounded children and provides explicit answers to the two questions posed above (as well as several others in the same vein). The author starts out Beyond the Tiger Mom with the story of how she came to be a teacher in Singapore, surrounded by obedient students and parents whose sole concern was not their children’s independence but their adherence to a certain set of standards. These standards inspired the author to examine her own parenting techniques, which she’s classified as “American parenting” and which heavily emphasize the fostering of independence and creativity. She never denigrates these traits, but she does posit that the key to successful parenting is to strike a balance between Eastern traditions and Western ideals.

As far as non-fiction parenting books go, this is one of the most highly addictive and well-written works around. Thiagarajan draws the reader in with her wit, humor, and authenticity. Each page feels epistolary: as though she were writing to you and only you. Not only is there an ease and a comfort to her writing, but there’s also a depth that comes from the thoroughness of her research into the topics she discusses. You would be hard-pressed to find a parenting book that better covers the answers to the burning questions associated with modern, global parenting.


The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey Konis


konisKonis’s story, The Conversations We Never Had, is a combination of memoir and fiction. He uses events and characters from his real life, particularly his Grandma Ola and his family’s history, to populate this interesting fiction-biography hybrid. Konis introduces the story by describing his late grandmother, who isn’t even actually his grandmother. Instead, Grandma Ola is his grandmother’s younger sister, who raised Konis’s father after World War II. Nonetheless, Ola and her husband, Grandpa Bonya, are the only grandparents Konis has known. It is not until Ola’s death that Konis realizes all he has lost. Not only has he lost his grandmother, but he has also lost all of the stories that she knew. His realization of this loss prompts this fictional memoir, bookended and intertwined with historical reality, both the reality of Konis’s family as well as the reality of World War II and the Holocaust.

As a law student, Konis lived with his grandmother after the death of his grandfather, both to keep an eye on her, as well as for the convenience of living near his university. It is here that Konis takes liberties, as he invents or embellishes conversations between Ola and his younger self. Konis admits later in the text that though he did spend time with Grandma Ola, he never questioned her about her past or her experiences during the war. It is in these fictional excursions that Konis’s storytelling shines, as the stories Ola tells are interesting on their own. She tells a richly detailed story, for example, of being punished by her stern but loving father for something she did not do. However, the narrative structure Konis uses to explore these stories fall short. Rather than allowing Ola’s story to develop naturally, Konis adopts an artificial, strained question and answer format, in which both Konis and Ola fall victim to the tendency to moralize or make elaborate connections between Ola’s story and great works of literature, which serve only to distance the reader from the overall narrative. This distance is reflected in Konis’s often stilted language and greatly contrasts with Ola’s fictional voice, which is warm and natural, and makes the reader wish she narrated the story as a whole.


Organizing for Your Lifestyle by Jane Stoller

four stars

stollerFor years, studies have shown that decluttering and being organized can not only reduce stress, but also provides peace of mind and improves your mood. Whether you are single or part of a large family, live in an apartment or a mansion, incorporating organization into your life can help maximize your potential to accomplish more on a daily basis. Have you taken steps to get organized yet? Get ready to find out why you really need to get started. In Organizing for Your Lifestyle, Jane Stoller lays out the science behind organization and not only how to get organized, but how to stay organized. It is a fun, inspiring guide to organizing all aspects of your life, from socks to suitcases. From the kitchen to the bathroom, Stoller shares ideas, advice and inspiration to help you lead a happier and healthier life.

Jane Stoller has truly put the best of the best in this jam-packed (& meticulously organized) book of organizing bliss. With spotlights on every room in your house, Stoller created the ultimate guide with Organizing for Your Lifestyle. Tack on the incredible chapters on the science of organization and stress and you have a winning combination. Throughout the book, Stoller drops gold nuggets of wisdom won from years of hard work and learning to be the master of her space and mind. All the things you wish your mother (or father) had taught you about organizing your home and life, are here in this book. If you are looking for the answer to all your organizing prayers, Jane Stoller has answered them.


B.S., Incorporated by Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss


bsWill Evans’ elation in working directly as a speechwriter for the CEOs of Business Solutions, Incorporated (BSI) deflates when he is charged with heading up a communication team to launch BSI’s nebulous business strategy called “Optelligence” under the supervision of a marketing agent from Synerpoint, “the evil empire of business consulting.” Adding insult to injury, the longtime employee and communications extraordinaire of the Minneapolis copier and office supply distributor has to deal with team member newbie Anna Reed. Anna’s aplomb as well as fierce competitive demeanor poses a threat to Will’s struggling self-esteem. But when Will learns that the intention of game changing strategy is to split the company up, he has no choice but to work with Anna to save the company and its original vision.

Rock and Voss have produced a clever corporate storyline in their debut novel. Dedicated to the “overworked,” “underappreciated,” and “dedicated employees who arrive early to turn on the lights and who drive the last car out of the lot at night,” the duo’s plot zeroes in on two dedicated underdogs—Will and Anna—caught in the throes of corporate greed. Rock and Voss utilize various literary elements to keep their narrative fresh and fluid. Amid the chaotic company environs, Rock and Voss surround their dynamic characters with a well-defined and colorful cast of white- and blue-collar workers. Top on that list of characters is Bennie with her continual string of ribald language set to a Boston lilt. Rock and Voss balance their cynical and comical writing style with engaging dialogue; alternating character scenes punctuated with fictional business news, Wall Street articles, and company email memos; romantic interests; and a flurry of unexpected moments. A fun read that definitely has wide audience appeal!


My Cells Made Me Do It by Robin R Hayes

four stars

robinOur behavior, the decisions we make and the actions we take, are nothing more than cellular responses. How our cells are interpreting their immediate environment, dictates how we respond to our environment. Studies of behavior show that often we are unaware of why we make the decisions we do, and that these decisions can be easily manipulated and influenced by subtle environmental cues. What may seem like a decision made freely may indeed not be so. My Cells Made Me Do It explains the phenomenon of behavior as a matter of cellular determinism.

My Cells Made Me Do It provides a scientific look at why we find one person attractive and not another. Analyzing the human condition within the realms of science, Hayes has produced an in-depth glimpse into how our choices are determined by our chemical makeup. A must read for any relationship enthusiast and anyone trying to find Mr. or Mrs. “Right.” The topics covered in this book will give you pause in your search and may change the way you view a potential mate. The overall implications of what is described in the book are unsettling to say the least. Hayes has expertly crafted a guide to analyzing your actions and finding the root of your choices. The next time you make a choice after reading this book, you will be thinking long and hard about why. Written with conviction and substantiated with extensive research, My Cells Made Me Do It will leave you wondering, where you fit in the world and if you are safe in your own head.


It is Only Money and It Grows on Trees by Cara MacMillan


moneyCara MacMillan’s It is Only Money and It Grows on Trees is an exploration of different sociocultural attitudes toward money. MacMillan examines these attitudes through a narrative that tells the stories of a diverse group of students, learning about financial responsibility in a class taught by a guest professor named Catherine, who leads her students to an understanding of their own approaches to money by attempting to answer a variety of questions, such as “What is money? What are our beliefs about money? What are society’s beliefs about money that are similar to our own? How do we follow our own beliefs about money rather someone else’s?” As Catherine leads her students to an understanding of these concepts, MacMillan guides the reader on the same journey, revealing how our earliest experiences can color our relationship with money and offering important financial advice through an interesting story.

What is most interesting is MacMillan’s ability to unpack and explain a variety of religious beliefs about money, as well as her easily understandable explanations of complicated financial ideas such as the differences between stocks and bonds and how to create passive income. MacMillan even tackles the global economy, deftly explaining why merely striving to get a good job is no longer a guarantee of financial success. MacMillan relies a little too heavily on the concept of the “rational actor,” the idea that people make rational economic decisions, a concept that has been debunked repeatedly, and the language is occasionally stilted, but otherwise this is a great introduction to fiscal responsibility and an interesting, if basic, history of money for all audiences.


The Blood on My Hands by Shannon O’Leary


bloodShannon O’Leary’s autobiography The Blood on My Hands is the chronicle of a childhood difficult to believe and grotesque to observe. In a strikingly clean, clear, and direct dictation, O’Leary describes the childhood she endured in Australia, beginning with the equally disturbing roots of her family. O’Leary paints a vivid picture of an abusive father plagued by multiple personalities, many of which sought to harm not only O’Leary but her mother and three siblings. Taking her readers back in time to her traumatic past, O’Leary travels brutally through her most ruinous memories wrought with a murderous father and a terror-stricken mother. From animal slaughter to rape, O’Leary witnesses some of the ugliest humanity has to offer, and boldly proffers these memories to readers likely unfamiliar with such atrocities.

A haunting memoir of tremendous courage amidst extreme cruelty, The Blood on My Hands will grip you hard and will linger in your mind long after you set it down. A childhood such as O’Leary endured is difficult to understand as having been real, and readers will likely spend the majority of their time reading her pages with awe-struck incredulity and bitter outrage. The work is crisp and painfully honest, moving from scene to scene both artfully and factually. Both the mundane and the impossible are treated with equal care, masterfully knitting together the various pieces of O’Leary’s tormented past. The reality of abusive childhoods becomes inescapable in The Blood on My Hands, and its readers will have a difficult time leaving the images it calls forth behind.


Whither Science?: Three Essays by Danko Antolovic


Danko Antolovic’s Whither Science?: Three Essays is an exploration of scientific inquiry of the past, present, and future. These brief essays provide a thought-provoking examination of the current state of scientific inquiry, and some suggestions for its future. In the first essay, he begins by providing a brief overview of the history of scientific investigation. Antolovic next laments the current state of scientific inquiry, which is dominated by corporations, universities, and governments. This system, modeled on the free market, hinders scientific discovery and exploration, according to Antolovic. Indeed, Antolovic argues that science has not produced any truly groundbreaking advances since the early 20th century. Antolovic proposes solutions to this stagnation that include having the larger scientific community come to some consensus on what areas of research would be most beneficial, and instituting a managerial framework to evaluate the work that results from this research. Antolovic’s next essay explores the creative versus the empirical, noting that science requires “the speculative ‘What if…?’” combined with the “straightjacket of empirical verification,” referring to physicist Richard Feynman’s characterization of scientific inquiry as “imagination in a straightjacket.” What science cannot do, Antolovic acknowledges, is provide us with moral or ethical guidelines. This is the topic of the third essay, in which Antolovic argues that science must now turn inward and begin to explore the human mind. In so doing, he argues, we will discover the cure for our instinctive behaviors, which lead us to “pursuits [that] are frivolous, tawdry and destructive.” Ultimately, he argues, science can provide us with ways to control those impulses that lead to destruction.

Antolovic’s text is intricate and provides the reader with a great deal to consider. The third essay is the most controversial, as it seems to contradict what Antolovic argues in the second essay, that science cannot tell us what is good or bad. This, however, is a tension which scientific inquiry has always faced; one that may never be resolved. This collection of essays is a valuable and important addition to this conversation, and the reader will enjoy this complex, but accessible work.


Code Name: Papa by John Murray


papaDanger, friendship, love, and secrecy are some of the foundations of Code Name: Papa. After many injuries and many experiences together as soldiers in Vietnam, Bill, Jake, and our unnamed narrator find themselves working together again, this time in a very unlikely situation. Called together to Jake’s father’s residence in Connecticut, they find themselves facing a very unusual proposition: to undergo training and become international ‘peacekeepers’. They would have cover jobs, but they would be sworn to secrecy about the actual nature of their jobs– protecting the United States, and its reputation, through any means necessary. The nature of their work would be exhilarating, past-face, and, of course, highly dangerous, so, naturally, they were on a two and a half month training trip shortly thereafter. However, after not too long Jake’s father becomes ill and can no longer be the head of the organization. He names the narrator the new operating director and from that point forward his code name is Papa.

Code Name: Papa by John Murray is a memoir, an important way to address the memories of the things that he has done and seen. While sometimes the writing falls a little flat or seems a little rushed, Murray’s heart is in the novel and the reader comes to know and appreciate the people that Murray has known and loved. Code Name: Papa is a glimpse into a life lived unlike almost all others.


Sammy Davis Jr.: The Writer Who Saved His Estate by Pamela Sherrod

four stars

sammySammy Davis Jr., was, indeed, a living legend. But when he died in 1990, the world was shocked by the financial tsunami that nearly toppled his estate. Faced with over $5 million in debt, the largest tax lien in the country and the seizure of their home, Altovise, his widow, was devastated when friends rejected her pleas for help. Pamela Sherrod stumbled into the center of the storm while partnering with Mrs. Davis to produce an inspirational film for kids. Sherrod unwittingly became a seemingly silent witness to the devastation that would unfold. Ultimately, she played a vital role in the outcome of one of Hollywood’s longest and most vicious battles over an entertainer’s estate. The remaining half of an iconic couple, that helped define the entertainment industry and break down the stereotypes of the times, is left to wonder what everything was for. What had they worked all their lives for?

Pamela Sherrod has opened a window into the life of a beloved character. She writes with care and grace, painting a relatable portrait of a man who captured the hearts of so many. Her first-hand accounts bring the story, with all its sordid details, to life with compelling accuracy. We can feel the tension rising between the pages and the characters. Sherrod’s prowess pulls you in and keeps you reading from beginning to end. Sherrod beautifully executes the telling of the story of this heart wrenching unsung hero and heroine.


Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change by Gary Szenderski


zoneSzen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change encompasses a collection of heartfelt and heartwarming short stories, much like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Commonly held together by the thread of positive change, each tale tells of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The first chapter urges readers to go boldly forth and be the best that they can be, and every short story therein (generally 60 words or fewer) speaks to that positive message. Speaking of positivity, the subsequent chapter, aptly titled “The Productivity Promise,” tackles the issues associated with time management—including the importance making time for oneself to balance out the hectic nature of modern life. Readers can find insightful tips for how to make the most out of those moments in life that are spent waiting and how not to moan about Mondays. From there, the book explores the challenges of living in the present, planning for the future, and letting go of past injustices. Each subsection cleverly sports an endnote with a final take-away, called a “Szenippet.” The end, of course, winds down with a final chapter called “The Szend.”

Although it can be a tad cloying at times, the overall message of the Szen Zone aches of real human emotion. Because it’s composed of so many short stories, there is really something for everyone within the pages of this inspiring book. If you’re looking for a dash of hope and a sprinkling of encouragement to change for the better, then look no further than Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change. It’s one of those books that bears picking up again and again throughout the seasons of your life, whenever you need a solid pick-me-up.


The Secrets of Success in Marriage by Dr. John Gatungu Githiga


marriageSome of the biggest questions that our current culture has are about what makes a marriage work, or if marriage even works at all. With high rates of divorce and marital dissatisfaction, young people are wondering if it is worth taking the plunge into any relationship, let alone an eternal relationship. In his book, The Secrets of Success in Marriage Dr. John Gatungu Githiga addresses some of these fears, answers questions, and uses positive anecdotal stories to emphasize the things that can be done to make a successful and happy marriage. Dr. Githiga touches on topics such as compromise, sexuality, determination, love, and friendship. While there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, Dr. Githiga truly believes that positive, fulfilling, and lasting marriages can be made, even in today’s culture.

The anecdotes that Dr. Githiga uses are almost always charming and uplifting, but between poor grammar and spelling, many stories lose their luster and believability. While many marriage experts may recommend similar kinds of methods and offer similar advice to improve relationships, Dr. Githiga’s advice verges on simply unhelpful, empty platitudes. Finally, Dr. Githiga’s advice and insights in The Secrets of Success in Marriage are based primarily in Christianity and a belief in God, making many of his anecdotes inaccessible, if not alienating, to non-believers. While positive and uplifting, Dr. Githiga’s book could use a number of edits and tweaks before I would firmly recommend it to any of my Christian married friends.


12 Simple Steps to Loving Life by Robert Radcliffe


12A guide to help you make a positive change and improve your way of life, 12 Simple Steps to Loving Life by Robert Radcliffe is an easy to follow book that will bring you to a happier and more peaceful state of mind. The author was inspired to write this book after joining the AA program which helped turn his life around from a homeless juvenile delinquent to a successful businessman and author. In the introduction of the book, the author admits that while the steps in his process are simple, that does not necessarily mean they are easy. In order to affect a positive change in yourself, you are going to have to work for it. By using his 12 step process, you will be able to remove your negative character traits and work to improve the positive ones. The author includes personal anecdotes, his struggles, and successes as he explains each of the steps. This offers the reader to connect on a more personal level with the author, which makes the narrative readable and relatable.

While the book is easy to follow, we wish that instead of just heading each chapter as ‘Step 1’ or ‘Step 2’ the author actually highlighted what each step was in a more direct manner, by calling the step a certain title, or having one specific sentence that defined what he was trying to achieve with each step. The book is not overly long, and it contains just the right amount of information to ignite and inspire those readers who are looking for a more well balanced life. Since the author has gone through a lot of varied experiences, his ideas do hold a certain amount of weight, but as he is just an average man, they can only be taken so seriously. Another way to improve the book would to be add professional opinions from psychologists or doctors, to further boost Radcliffe’s claims. Nevertheless, this is a powerful book that many will find helpful.


Mantra Design by Dana Oliver


mantraDana A. Oliver, the Senior Director of Research & Development at Medtronic’s Surgical Technologies ENT/NT division, begins Mantra Design: Innovate, Buy, or Die! by introducing himself and providing some of his personal and professional backgrounds. He then explains that this book is a follow-up to his first book: Mantra Leadership: Don’t Become the Emperor with No Clothes! While his first book was about emotionally intelligent leadership skills and creating a transparent culture, for his second book, he shifts the focus from leadership to innovation leadership. First, he introduces himself and innovation leadership and explains his thesis that “truly successful innovation requires influential leadership.” Oliver then explains each of the following fourteen “mantras,” which include Innovate, Buy, or Die!; Learn Your Customer’s World; Innovation Begins with an Eye; It Takes a Long Time to Get to Simple; Fall Forward Fast with a Balanced Approach; Build to Learn; Go Slow, to Go Fast; Verification Is Not a Discovery Process; Hope Is Not a Strategy; Become the Product; Spend 15% of Your Time on Innovation; Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should; Product Champions Make the Difference; and Beware of Magical Metrics.

One of this book’s greatest merits is its simple structure and easy to remember mantras, each of which is supported by anecdotes and evidence from Oliver’s own career. Throughout the book, Oliver regularly refers to several other business books, so it is clear that he is familiar with and knowledgeable about the genre. He is also an expert on the subject of innovation with 30 years of experience and documented success. Although the writing is at times a bit verbose and might lose the reader–especially one not well versed in business terminology–one can always refer back to the mantras for clarification. Oliver also could have more clearly explained his definition of innovation leadership at the beginning of the book.


The Painting and the Piano by John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo


paintingA memoir detailing the trials and tribulations of two souls experiencing parallel struggles with family and addiction, The Painting and The Piano paints a vivid picture of two lives darkened by pain and loss. The first storyline involves the coming-of-age of the wealthy son of a titan of industry: Johnny Lipscomb. Johnny’s mother and father are both functioning alcoholics—though, sadly, his mother becomes less and less able to cope as his story progresses. Johnny relies heavily on the surrogate mothering of his dear governess, Lizzy, who is firm but ever faithful. Eventually, Johnny’s parents divorce, he must part ways with Lizzy, and his mother succumbs to the weight of her addiction: dying tragically and leaving Johnny to navigate his existence with nary a guiding light. Similarly, Adrianne, a foster child living in a loving home, comes to learn that her biological parents are not only recovering drug addicts, but also that they want to wrench her away from said loving home. Abusive and an alcoholic until the day she dies, Adrianne’s mother is a direct parallel for Johnny’s mother.

These two stories unfold in brilliantly poignant and tragic ways, and the cycles of abuse and addiction are explored in meaningful, real discourse that brings about a deeper meaning to the reader as they follow along the narrative. Although it is a non-fiction memoir, the book reads much like a novel: intense and at points, almost unbelievable. The writing could use some tidying up, but over all, it’s a thrilling, fast-paced ride for those who don’t mind a little gritty reality.


Beyond the Blue Ikarian Sea by John Chrysochoos


blueA memoir that reads like a novel, John Chrysochoos, PhD has written a book called Beyond the Blue Ikarian Sea: Life in Greece and North America that tells the story of his life up until this point. Although the narrative follows a man named Aris, as the author explains in the introduction, this is simply the name he has chosen for himself, as he always wished to be called this. The story that unfolds on these pages is based in fact, although some portions of it have been slightly fictionalized. We follow Aris from his childhood in Greece through his golden years once he has moved to America. Aris’ innocent childhood on the beautiful Greek island of Ikaria is painfully interrupted by the start of World War II and the subsequent Greek Civil War. The occupation by the enemy and the following famine had a great impact on Aris growing up. His immigration to North America, first landing in Canada and then moving to the United States where he has lived most of his adult life is showcased as the narrative progresses. While Aris did not always have it easy, and faced many problems throughout his journey, the thought of the beautiful blue sea that surrounded the island of Ikaria always brought him peace.

It is an interesting choice to write a memoir in such a fashion, as if it is in fact a novel. While some may find the choice strange, the author explains his reasoning for doing so by saying that he wished “to make the story as objective as possible.” The author somewhat distances himself from his own life, and only interjects when he feels he needs to offer his own interpretation. Nevertheless, the entire book is really his interpretation, as he is recounting a story based on fact, whether or not it is partially fictionalized, his voice is coming through on every page. The story is an intriguing one, as the author has clearly lived a vibrant life full of ups and downs. The book will appeal to many, but we believe it’s reach would extend even further if the author would have simply written it as a straightforward memoir.


Journey of the Guru by Richard B. Mahase


An enigmatic book that is both a biography and a spiritual guide, Richard B. Mahase’s Journey of the Guru: Biography of His Holiness Swami Vidyanandaji Maharaj: Science of Seva tells more than just the story of the aforementioned subject, as it also explores the timeless spirit of Hinduism. The religion is explored within these pages by going over the different rituals and worship rites, as well as evaluating the resolute, unquestioned loyalty to the concept of seva (service) and of guru bhakti (which means complete submission to the teacher.) The book makes Hinduism accessible to the western reader by illuminating the aspects of it that make it so universally appealing. Many people can use the book to help themselves find a certain sense of celestial liberation. The book is by no means a light read, as it chronicles many individuals who are important in the Hindu religion. There are many black and white photographs throughout that help shed light on the religion and how certain people and practices factor into the larger picture.

Mahase has certainly aimed high at chronicling Hinduism and the important of people who have played a part in shaping the religion in this lengthy book, and for the most part he exceeds at his goal. While the narrative is by no means a brief one, he has organized it in such a way that it is accessible to all readers, even those who may not be very familiar with the subject matter. By including the viewpoints of many, Hinduism is explored through a wide lens, thereby allowing the reader to learn about it without bias or objective ideals that are too strict to shift or bend. This book will appeal to anyone who is already a follower of Hinduism, and those who are aiming to learn more about it.


The Mystery of Happiness: Solved! by Ken Saxby


To call this just a self-help book would be to undersell its potential. Unlike many purported self-help books that only provide the “what,” The Mystery of Happiness: Solved! also gives readers the “why.” The book opens with a macro level view of how people have searched for happiness since the beginning of time, and the philosophical and psychological means of understanding it. The author then delves into the defining characteristics of happy people; their lifestyle, demographic, and qualities are examined in depth. The book then wraps up with modern psychological methods for determining happiness and strategies for improving one’s own happiness.

The advice in this book, specifically in elevating one’s happiness, is sound; and is based mainly on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a common treatment among therapist. The strength of this book though, is in the history it provides. Starting with ancient Greek philosophers the author charts out a succinct look at how happiness, and the attempt at understanding its source, has changed over the years. Possibly one of the most interesting pieces is the author’s categorization of history’s attempt to relate our brain to something else. Starting with wax, then a walnut, and on to a computer, people have always been searching for a way to make the mind more understandable. The author does include the occasional bias in his writing, especially in the repeated assertion that extroverted people are happier than introverted. These are few and far between however and don’t really interfere with the reading of this book. Whether looking for advice on how to be happier, or a historical look at the categorization of happiness, this book will be a good fit.


Revolutionary Powercycles by Giacomo Fasano


powerPart self-help book, part diet and exercise guide, and part memoir, Revolutionary Powercycles: The Remix by Giacomo Fasano explains how important it is to sweat while exercising to remove harmful toxins from your body. Through his exercise regimen that he has named ‘Powercycle68’ the author explains how the readers can improve their overall health and state of mind. The book is rather long, and pulls inspiration from the actual exercises that Fasano describes, helpful diet and health tips, plus anecdotes and vignettes from the author’s own life to inspire the reader to take control of their well being and live a better life. Spirituality and faith in God also plays a part in the book, as the author finds inspiration from the Lord in order to be the best version of himself.

While this book certainly contains a great deal of helpful information and the author is clearly very passionate about his unique ideas on health and fitness, at nearly six hundred pages it can often times be a lot to digest. The organization of the book seems haphazard, as diet tips, exercise routines, and personal stories are scattered throughout in seemingly random intervals. The images included keep the book interesting, but the capitalization and bolding of certain sections tends to become distracting and takes away from the overall message. This book could be improved by further organization, perhaps even separating the different topics into more clear sections, or just editing down the content to the bare essentials, so that the reader does not get overwhelmed or lost when trying to understand the helpful information Fasano is trying to teach them.


But Still I Learned To Fly by Kimberly Belifore


Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 3.51.19 PM…But Still I Learned To Fly, written and illustrated by Kimberly Belifore, is an empowering collection of poems, illustrations, personal reflections, and life advice. Belifore shares her experiences, insights, and views on life providing the reader with an intimate guide and the specific tools needed to embrace a fulfilling, peaceful, and happy life. Through a combination of heart-felt original poetry, motivational thoughts, and intriguing illustrations, …But Still I Learned To Fly is an intensely personal self-help book that follows the journey of a strong perceptive woman as she shares her reflections and knowledge.

Belifore guides readers with powerful canny poetry and intuitive wisdom. Her writing and illustrations demonstrate a deep understanding of life’s many challenges. The observations about life, love, and people explored in …But Still I Learned To Fly are deeply perceptive and accessible to readers. In addition, the book offers an astute and beneficial collection of tools that Belifore has successfully used to overcome struggles and transform her life. Due to the intimate voice and invaluable advice provided, …But Still I Learned To Fly is recommended to anyone interested in changing their frame of mind and enhancing and improving their way of life.


Merry’s Brood by William L. Hewitt


Merry’s Brood, collected and organized by William L. Hewitt, is an anthology of stories proffered by five siblings separated at early ages by the heart-rending troubles of divorce, adoption, and poverty. Lewitt himself is one of these siblings, with “Merry” being the mother of the set. Early chapters delve into the lives Merry’s parents, as well as the beginning of Merry’s brood itself. A whole chapter is dedicated to each sibling who narrates their story with a profound honesty, communicating difficult and oftentimes violent truths about their upbringing. Hewitt meshes historical context with emotional revelations and philosophical ideals in his personally written sections, drawing the puzzle pieces together into a whole discernible image of Merry’s brood and their many struggles.

Hewitt seeks, through Merry’s Brood, to honor the wish of his mother- the wish to share the family’s stories, and to preserve their significance and clarity while accurate facts could still be told and recorded. In this goal, Hewitt undoubtedly succeeds. However, the structure of the first person narratives can quickly become confusing for readers. It is unclear at times who the speaker is, and there are not enough clear delineations between the siblings in the beginning in order to establish each personality as separate and individual. Despite this, having multiple voices offering personal viewpoints is a huge boon to the text, giving each of the siblings the chance to tell the story their way and through their eyes. Merry’s Brood stands as a valuable historical and cultural artifact of an American family divided and, years and years later, reunited, and their subsequent distinct story lines.


Victory Garden Boys by J.R. Foley


J.R. Foley’s Victory Garden Boys: Re-Loving a Boyhood explores post-World War II America through the lens of narrative memoir. In a series of narrative essays, Foley examines life in a D.C. suburb at one of the most fascinating periods of American history- the Cold War era. The reader follows Foley’s coming of age from 1947 through 1961, watching history unfold as he grows up. Foley’s essays give the reader an inside look at several aspects of his boyhood, both on a personal scale and in examinations of the political, economic and cultural developments that informed his young life. Of particular interest is the focus on Foley’s father, who served in the 86th Congress as a Representative of Maryland’s Montgomery County.

The most impressive aspect of Victory Garden Boys is the seamless way the essays work together to form an inclusive, fascinating narrative. Rather than a coming-of-age tale that gives the reader a look at Cold War America exclusively through the gaze of an adolescent boy, the reader is treated to informed, straight-forward essays as well, pieces that allow a closer look at the economic and cultural background against which Foley grew up. The writer’s voice never falters, whether he is describing the details of his father’s political campaign, or recounting his all-important discovery of rock and roll music. Victory Garden Boys is a nuanced look at how the Baby Boomers grew up, a memoir that tackles political unrest, economic prosperity, the idyllic details of suburban living, and the beauty of a boy watching his father try to change the world.


Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely by Marie Brack


frugalBookstores are filled with books of financial advice. It seems every successful person has a different opinion on how to manage and build wealth. What most of these book lack however are practical steps the reader can take. In this, Frugal Living for the 21st Century shines. Author Marie Brack has laid out over 200 pages of practical advice on how any household can save money. Everything is covered in this book from how to save money on electric bills to home remedies for scrapes, burns, and headaches. A section of special interest is how anyone can make extra money in their spare time. Brack lays out dozens of idea to earn extra income, from medical experiments to being a secret shopper.

Frugal Living for the 21st Century is full of sound advice for anyone looking to save money or earn a little extra. What makes this book truly shine though is the author’s charm and casual style or writing. Reading this book is more akin to having a conversation with the author. She shares stories about her family, and anecdotes about her own personal life; what worked for her and what didn’t. The book is also nicely laid out. Brack outlines general strategies first, such as “Buy it once” and “Make it yourself.” She then moves into methods of earning extra income. In the final, and largest, section of the book she goes into every facet of life outline practical steps the reader can take to save money. This book is recommended to anyone interested in easily saving money and earning a little extra income.


Pícaro: Psychopaths, Warlords, and a Rogue Journalist on the Dark Side of History by Jeff B. Harmon


picaroJournalist and film director Jeff Harmon details his early childhood in California as the son of distant, divorced, and eccentric parents and his harrowing adventures in the Central African Empire, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Afghanistan throughout the late 70s and into the 80s. As a journalist, his specialty was infiltrating the most guarded secrets of the country he was reporting on with incredible luck and pure boldness. His memoir recounts his investigation of neo-Nazis hiding out in Paraguay during his quest to find Dr. Josef Mendel and then his dangerous reporting on the right-wing death squads in El Salvador during its civil war. In Afghanistan, his seeming death wish continues as he is granted close, personal contact with both the Mujahideen Afghan rebel fighters and the Soviet invaders during the late 1980s, a diplomatic and dangerous feat that few were able to live to tell about. Each chapter highlights a specific time and place during his years as a war correspondent and film director whose eye for destruction and human depravity is never exhausted.

Although written over thirty years ago to Pícaro’s modern readers, his stories of Afghanistan in particular provide much needed clarity behind the American military’s current battles in the same region. He is able to recount the pure hell of a war torn nation from all perspectives while also describing the personal lives of the people he meets, perhaps all the more provocative as a homosexual man in cultures with strict rules regarding sexuality. While fascinating and incredibly relevant, at times his narration jumps quickly within chapters and his tone makes his memoir feel more like fiction than fact. Regardless, through his memories Harmon is able to provide readers with fascinating descriptions of cultures that still remain shrouded in mystery and how deadly violence brings out humanity’s eternal wrestle with itself and fellow man.


Accused by Rebecca Noel


accusedAccused, an autobiographical self-help book from Rebecca Noel, explores the question of what it means to be accused. Noel found herself a victim of false accusations by fellow church members, a struggle she shares with the reader. As a victim of bullying, Noel credits her faith and the power of prayer as the reasons she was able to eventually rise above her accusers. Drawing on her personal experiences, she reminds the reader that false accusations often come from a place of insecurity and fear. Once you acknowledge that their words hold no power over you, you’ve won the battle. Citing scripture and personal encounters with accusers, Noel explores the Biblical reasons she believes people choose to accuse and, as a victim of their falsehoods, what you should do next.

Although an interesting premise and clearly written from the heart, Accused reads more as a disjointed memoir than a practical self-help book. Noel’s jumbled writing style is distracting and grammatical errors tend to take away from the finer points she makes about overcoming negativity and hatred in your life. Furthermore, with her use of so many vague examples, it can be difficult to discern if she is addressing the reader’s experiences or her own. The line between hypothetical and actual events is often blurry and confusing, which further complicates the already confusing plot. Still, Noel’s stalwart faith in the face of such accusations is inspiring and her ultimate choice to rise above petty hatred is certainly something worth emulating.


Retail by Ric Bennett


An exploration of both celebrity and the everyday, RETAIL: and other things in life we want gift-wrapped is author Ric Bennett’s memoir – a reflection upon his earthy Midwest roots and his fame-tinged Angeleno adulthood. Soon after relocating from Michigan to California to pursue a career as a recording artist in the music industry, our hero Ric finds himself working at an upscale retail location in the heart of Los Angeles. Through Retail, Bennett juxtaposes his upbringing with lessons learned during his new life on the West Coast, all highlighted by amusing celebrity encounters from his time in Tinseltown.

Bennett’s reflections on his life’s journey are interspersed seamlessly with journal entries in a format that is compelling and immediately engaging. Bennett’s tone is conversational and humorous and – regardless of the subject matter – the treatment of his stories is tight and full of warmth. Bennett’s experiences range from rapturous to heartbreaking, but he maintains such a cheerful and optimistic voice so as to always keep the book feeling breezy and approachable. Hand-in-hand with this good-natured air is a casually philosophical current, and Bennett’s adventures are unfailingly accompanied with an insightful perspective. The result is a portrait of a life that is rich, involving, enlightening, and often sparkling with pure hilarity, if a bit incomplete – although Bennett’s tales are all delightful, strung together they do not build and develop in resonance with each other as much as one would like. With some back-and-forth and revisiting of certain themes and events, the book skips ahead and falls back upon itself and can thus feel repetitive and in want of better organization; it works best, perhaps, as a series of short stories than as a full and cohesive memoir. It remains, however, brimming full of timeless sentiments and of-the-moment documentation of our era. Bennett is a grand storyteller and, eschewing pomposity, his story feels honest, pure, and relatable. Retail is ultimately so good because it never aspires or (has the pretense) to be something that it is not, and is therefore an utterly genuine and authentic pleasure.


Now That I Think About It by Kerry Freeman


freemanThe Life and Adventures of Kerry Freeman: Now That I Think About It! The Story of a Lifetime or Two, written by none other than Kerry Freeman, reads somewhat like a series of diary entries. Freeman kicks off the book with his moment of birth, but quickly jumps to his earliest memories when he would have been approximately four years old. Readers will soon learn that Freeman was filled with a lot of anger from his early childhood years on. He speeds through his childhood years and begins sharing experiences from his life as an adult. As Freeman states near the end of the book, Now That I Think About It, is “a reenactment of [Kerry Freeman’s] life as [he remembers] it.” He, also, offers readers the opportunity to email him questions if they have any.

Though Kerry Freeman’s book, Now That I Think About It, might very well be interesting to his children, grandchildren and other descendants in the future, there is little to nothing to entice the general reader to keep turning pages. The storyline jumps to and fro, which can lead to confusion, and there is little depth to any of the experiences or events shared. As Freeman skims so quickly over various life events and occurences, he has left out the opportunity for readers to truly gain insight into the why and the how of the various moments let alone the other individuals mentioned in the book. The sharing at the end of the book of where all Kerry Freeman has been could be interesting if he had shared in depth stories and details about those places and what happened there. For Freeman’s Now That I Think About It to inspire those outside of his family and own circle it needs more of what the cover expresses – “honor, ambition, adventure, accomplishment, caring, contentment, comfort, honor and good fortune.”


A Child of Royalty by Diana Ketterman


childDiana Ketterman recounts her lifelong journey in her narrative, A Child of Royalty. As a young child, Diana was often the subject of affection from her father and of care and love from her mother. Diana recalls times when her mother defended her from a neighbor boy who teased her, and her father was one who often stopped the car on the side of the road, simply to pick wildflowers for her own bouquet. As Diana begins to grow, however, disabilities and disorders plague Diana’s family, changing the dynamic and happiness that was once so prevalent in her life. While Diana’s mother has begun to act strangely and eventually disregards care of her three children, Diana’s father is suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor, eliciting a change in his personality and resulting in a debilitating surgery. Diana’s parents begin to fight more often and more violently, with the violence often spreading to the three young children. As Diana continues to find herself caring for her younger siblings and acting as a mother figure in their lives, she is also struggling with graduation, a new job, and a young marriage. When Diana’s father passes away, her mother becomes increasingly more incapacitated, eventually resulting in her removal from her home and the placement of her two minor children in foster care. Throughout all of this, Diana continues to have hope and pursue her dreams, never allowing her lack of a “normal” family to prevent her successes or the preservation of her family. Eventually becoming an immensely successful businesswoman and leader, Diana epitomizes the narrative of a dedicated, hopeful individual who overcomes adversity to achieve a well-deserved, positive outcome.

Diana Ketterman is anything but a child of royalty. In a narrative that reads as well as fiction, readers are allowed a window into the life that encompasses a mental disorder. In A Child of Royalty, readers are able to experience and understand the toll that a mental disorder takes not only on the sufferer, but also on those loved ones of the afflicted. These firsthand experiences tell the story of the emotions that result from watching the sanity slowly slip from a parent, and from the deep, long-lasting psychological damage that it can inflict on others. From something as apparently simple as an awareness of physical appearance to something as impactful as a constant fear of mental disorder development, we are able to see how Diana’s mother has affected her to this day. Along with this insight into the repercussions of a disorder, however, we are also able to see how these situations have shaped Ketterman into the successful adult that she is. As Ketterman mentions in the last pages of her narrative, she would never have chosen these cards and this path in her life if presented ever with the choice – but her past and her experiences as they occurred are precisely what have allowed her to become who she has become. Readers with a variety of interest and backgrounds will be able to find inspiration from Ketterman’s memoir. Whether interests are in mental disorders, “underdog” stories, or somewhere in between, readers will undoubtedly walk away with a new appreciation of the various obstacles that are presented throughout one’s lifetime.


Where My Angels Led by Ken Pidcock


angelsKen Pidcock’s charming Where My Angels Led is a vibrant memoir spanning the journey of two people’s lives from their infantile cries to their final conditions at the publication date, whether that was in this world or the next. Where My Angels Led follows the interwoven tale of Ken Pidcock and Barbie Tomlinson, a man and a woman who began their lives only 50 miles apart from one another, and who would come to bind themselves to one another to travel the difficulties and joys of life together. Pidcock’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at an Englishman and an Englishwoman’s simply complex tale. Pidcock offers his readers full disclosure in the exciting and sometimes heartbreaking details of his life with Barbie and takes them through magnetizing scenes of poverty, war, travel, and love.

Pidcock’s memoir is written with a beautiful simplicity that makes it accessible for both casual and scholarly readers. His story encompasses a vast variety of circumstances and situations, sprawling across decades of the fully-lived adventure of two affable and memorable characters. Where My Angels Led acts not only as a historically factual memoir but also a creative story of love, exploration, and sometimes suspense. Pidcock’s personal struggle to overcome the challenges that life had in store for him is inspiring to say the least, and his dedication to his Barbie is unparalleled. The memoir is an unassuming and modest text seeking to express the story of two unremarkable, yet remarkable, people, and succeeds in conveying the history of their lives in a charming manner, if not in an overly intellectual or thought-provoking one.


A Mind Set on Yoga by A.L. Chaviano


yogaYogi A.L. Chaviano sets out to enrich the mindsets and the states of enlightenment in readers through his text A Mind Set on Yoga. Alternating profound religious and philosophical statements with explanatory notes expounding upon their meanings, Chaviano proffers his personal understanding of the Self and the nature of the universe in short segments of complex topics. Chaviano primarily makes use of Hinduist teachings in his discussions of humanity and the world, pulling from conversations between Krishna and Arjuna, deities worshipped differently across different Hindu traditions. The book also draws from non-Hindu teachings, including Christian scriptures, Tai Chi practices, and the Islamic Quran, creating an intricate balance between different philosophical practices that truly demonstrates the idea of many paths to one enlightenment.

The idea of A Mind Set on Yoga is a profound and admirable one, and Chaviano’s attempt to extrapolate meanings from an extensive list of deep statements is to be applauded. However, even from the first, understanding his explanations will be a struggle for both the initiated and the uninitiated in tangled philosophical dialogue. Readers looking to understand yoga and yoga practices in the form of physical or mindfulness exercises will be disappointed to find that this is instead a text that centers on Hindu teachings about the universe. Many intriguing and multifaceted statements exist relatively unexplained in the text, leaving much to be desired as far as comprehending and applying Chaviano’s techniques goes. There is a great amount said, but perhaps a small amount thoroughly explained. A Mind Set on Yoga represents a monumental effort to put profound spiritual practices regarding the self into words, an effort which may or may not see success in the eyes of its readers.


Self Reliance Mastery by Nathan Crane


craneSelf Reliance Mastery contains a series of in-depth and complex interviews from various self-reliance experts conducted, organized, and collected by Nathan Crane into one organic and thought-provoking text. Crane presents his topic of self-reliance in an extended introduction which outlines his own personal views regarding mankind’s current state as far as sustainability is concerned. Following Crane’s brief essay are 16 individual interviews with 16 experts in the field, all of which serve not only as crash courses on becoming self-reliant but also as intimate pictures of the lives, histories, and passions of these experts. Topics range from the discussion of an impending super storm to the medicinal benefits of cayenne, offering enriching dialogues about sometimes more obscure scientific discoveries and sustainability methods.

While some of the interviews may lack any fruitful and measurable steps towards achieving self-reliance, others completely outshine this fault and more than accommodate for those that are lacking. Each interview is followed by Crane’s textbook-style highlighting of important and memorable details, making the chapters even more accessible and the unnecessary tidbits easily overlooked. The most admirable trait of Crane’s Self Reliance Mastery collection is its dedication to the genuine convictions of each of its self reliance masters. The sincerity and science of these experts in their proclamations for the need for modern day self-reliance is difficult, even, for critics to ignore. In particular, the final interview with Jason Matyas might shake doubtful and unaware readers and spur serious intellectual debates among them about the steadfastness of certain financial and government institutions many find indomitable. Crane successfully unites 16 different perspectives on self-reliance into one anthology of interviews, creating a text as useful for the uninitiated as it is for the self-reliance practitioner.


27 Flavors of Fulfillment by Nathan Crane


27Nathan Crane co-created with 27 expert authors a book that will have readers coming back to it again and again. The book, 27 Flavors of Fulfillment: How to Live Life to the Fullest, is jam-packed full of profound wisdom and unique concepts. With short essays from each author, a reader can pick up 27 Flavors of Fulfillment and either choose his or her flavor for the moment or simply allow this profound book to open to a random page. Either way, the knowledge, insight and inspiration to transform one’s life is at the reader’s fingertips. Laura Chiraya Fox shares a step-by-step checklist for activating one’s destiny while Diana Stobo explains how the law of attraction reveals who one really is inside deep down. Alan Cohen tells how what lies ahead and behind doesn’t have to stop a person from relishing in the juicy strawberries if only he or she is willing to shift focus. Sonia Choquette wraps up the essays with an eloquent example of how to truly “love yourself…[and] live your spirit.” These are just a few of our favorite insights.

Bringing together such a large number of amazing authors is no easy feat, but Nathan Crane has done it. His book, 27 Flavors of Fulfillment: How to Live Life to the Fullest, lives up to its claim as every author Crane included as one of this magical 27 shares deeply philosophical, intellectual, metaphysical and spiritual wisdom. They take ideas that have once again become more commonly recognized, and turn these concepts on their sides and some on their heads. Readers get the opportuntiy to view ancient wisdom through a new lens and expand their personal level of consciousness and awareness as the authors explore a variety of dimensions. Crane’s 27 Flavors of Fulfillment is a must read and a life changer. Well done!


Trayvon/Bobby TB: Sophisticated Racism—America’s Infectious Disease by Donald D. Warner


tbTrayvon/Bobby—TB is a personal narrative focused on a “realistic examination” not only of the social and racism injustices of African Americans in America, but that also offers a solution to this insidious problem. Comparing this problem to the characteristics of tuberculosis (TB)–a once known worldwide killer in childhood, Warner highlights how its infectious characteristics “are symbolic of the disease that continually perpetuates and distinguishes itself in every aspect of the American society.” Basing his thesis on Trayvon Martin (2011) and his own brother Bobby (1960)—two men from two different time periods, unarmed and shot in the back by police, Warner offers a compelling and eye-opening solution to “the evils of discrimination and sophisticated racism that perpetuates America.”

Among a growing list of books, Warner’s most recent work addresses the main pillars of structural racism throughout American history: prejudice, power and privilege. Warner’s first person narrative covers various issues in African-American history of the 20th and 21st centuries. While combining facts with his candid memoir, Warner keeps his text engaging by including a nice array of apt poetry—both his own as well as poignant pieces from Langston Hughes. Of key importance are the different schools of thought that he presents and the process he takes that leads to his well-researched conclusions. Warner addresses the plight of African-Americans—particularly youth—and their unfulfilled “American dream of inalienable rights, liberty and justice for all,” Urging communities and churches to make a difference in the lives of a Black youths, Warner closes with a timely and encouraging message: “Take someone by the hand, volunteer your time, continue to send donations. Blow out the candle of despair and light the candle of hope.”


On the Balcony: Rapture and Ruptures by Jerome Jewell


jeromeOn the Balcony: Rapture and Ruptures offers a unique window into the core of one man’s personal and enlightening journey through modern life. Jerome Jewell provides a kaleidoscope of interwoven autobiographical story clips that each provide a pearl of straight-forward and thoughtful wisdom. Looking at the world through the dreamy lens of profound reflection, Jewell takes note of life lessons that could be gleaned from situations throughout his experience and offers them back to his readers with a sense of refreshing clarity and humor. Situations described range from trivial daily frustrations to Jewell’s massive move from Virginia to Denver, Colorado. Each chapter is named for its particular idea and is brief in nature, making the transition from topic to topic feel natural and easy.

Jewell’s work is thought-provoking, to say the least. While most of the nuggets of his wisdom reside in simple ideas such as the importance of implementing true customer service and the importance of respecting elders, they are presented in such a way as to feel new and contemplative. The brevity of his chapters keeps readers willingly engaged rather than tediously reading, and the assortment of subject matters proffered draws attention from business owners and home makers alike. On the Balcony is really a genre of its own, as it pieces together threads from Jewell’s life to not necessarily make a story but rather a meditative and informative piece. The length, in this case, may turn some readers off, and it is perhaps best enjoyed in small mouthfuls rather than in one huge gulp. The language is clear and precisely constructed, making the pearls of wisdom all the more accessible and pleasing to gather. Jewell’s piece is, if the pun can be forgiven, a quiet jewel.


They Serve Bagels in Heaven by Irene Weinberg


bagelsIt’s never the “right time” to lose someone you love, but, let’s face it, some deaths just happen way too soon—like when Saul Weinberg crashed his car, had a heart attack, and died, leaving his adoring wife, Irene, behind. Irene barely survived the accident herself, and she didn’t know how she would go on without the love of her life—but something kept telling her she had to keep going. She had a greater purpose to fulfill, and, even though she may have lost Saul “too soon,” she had forever to make up for it—in this world, and the next. They Serve Bagels in Heaven by Irene Weinberg is, as its long subtitle suggests, “One couple’s story of love, eternity, and the cosmic importance of everyday life.” A compelling two-person narrative, it tells tale of life after death, both in terms of what heaven is like and in terms of what life is like after losing a loved one. It follows Saul and Irene through heaven and earth, respectively, and details what each learns in wake of Saul’s death. On earth, Irene consults with spiritual aids and pushes her beliefs, while, in heaven, Saul discovers the true nature of his bond with Irene and furthers his understanding of what “love” truly is. Saul shares his story from the other side, as Irene shares hers from ours, and, together, they recount a love that has spanned multiple centuries, cultures, and physical forms—and, all throughout, they remind us that theirs is a story meant to give us hope and comfort whenever we question what’s going on around us in our crazy, hectic world.

They Serve Bagels in Heaven is a very soulful, sentimental book best read by those who’ve already taken a leap of faith. It contains heavy references to what some may consider unconventional spiritual practices, such as channeling and communicating with the dead, and probably won’t fare well with skeptics who challenge such things. But, for those with open minds, this book will definitely give them the sustenance they need. Their story is sure to make you love more fully and greater appreciate the finer details of life.


5 Squares by Bonita McIlvaine


squaresA mishmash of stories, 5 Squares focuses mainly on the life and experiences of Bonita McIlvaine. In the early pages, McIlvaine expresses that the five squares included her and four of her closest girl friends. The implication was that 5 Squares was going to be a recap of exciting and, perhaps shocking, adventures of five naive young women. Yet, as the story unfolds there isn’t nearly as much about her friends and their adventures as expected. On the other hand, there seems to be a huge focus on Bonita’s father, John Charles McIlvaine, Sr., and her adoration of him. While adoring one’s father is beauitful, this was an unanticipated aspect to 5 Squares. McIlvaine shares long lists of famous and well-known people that she and her family knew personally as well as casually, but there is little story to any of these connections. At one point, she tells how she dated and was in love with a pimp for many years, but this story is quite short and offers next to no exciting stories either. In the end, Bonita McIlvaine tells a tale of a stranger contacting her in regards to her mother. She learns things she never knew about her mom, but again the reader is left to wonder what more really happened. On top of that, this final story doesn’t make sense in regards to wrapping up 5 Squares. It almost seems “out-of-the-blue” just as its chapter is entitled.

Clearly from 5 Squares, Bonita McIlvaine lived a life that few might ever dream of, but the book sorely lacks in bringing back to life the excitement, adventure, potential danger, and intrigue that must have been present. Instead, McIlvaine’s compilation of memories is chaotic and too often just a list of who’s who and the mundane activities of life. There are a number of old photos, tickets, letters and business cards shared in 5 Squares. Some of these are interesting while others seem more like page fillers than supportive to the story. Bonita McIlvaine’s 5 Squares will make for a great book to pass down to her family, but it is unlikely to be overly interesting to a wide audience.


No Easy Choices by Litisha Turner


choicesLitisha Turner always wanted to be a mother. In a crisp and straight-forward memoir entitled No Easy Choices, Litisha Turner outlines her life as it relates to her struggle with infertility and the many choices surrounding the hardships that follow such a medical state. Play by play, readers are introduced to Turner’s personal affairs and her sometimes tumultuous relationships with men alongside of doctor’s visits and medical diagnoses. Turner holds nothing back as she explains her journey and all of the darker hiccups along the way, including enduring an abortion, a divorce, and single motherhood. The memoir reads as an intimate journal, with Turner allowing readers a bird’s eye view into the thoughts behind her motions and the inspirations behind her actions. Ultimately the novel embodies a hopeful representation of a woman determined to have a child and unwilling to accept no for an answer.

Turner’s book is subtitled A Story of Perseverance, and readers, while making their way through the story, may identify with that struggle more than an author would care for given its rougher texture and unfinished diction. In the reverse, some readers may find the style of writing easy to access and therefore more richly rewarding in its relatability. Readers may also find perturbing the rather upsetting lack of focus on the son whom Litisha bore before her discovery that she was infertile and her consequent quest to bear another child. Regardless, Turner’s novel illuminates one woman’s struggle against her own body, and her unflagging and inspirational hope in its eventual production of what she wanted most: another child to love and hold.


The Silver Lining: Encounters With Angels by Gretchen E. Walker


The-Silver-LiningGretchen grew up in a family rife with conflict.  Her parents divorced while she was young and she was sent to live with her mother, a deeply troubled woman who was both psychologically and physically abusive to her children.  The final straw came when Gretchen’s mother remarried – and Gretchen’s home no longer remained a safe place for her to live. From these tumultuous beginnings, Gretchen traces her life’s path through adolescence and young adulthood, recounting her uninhibited yet reckless teenaged years and the trials of her first marriage.  Then, just as Gretchen’s life finally begins to flower, she is struck by a debilitating illness.  The onset of multiple sclerosis (MS) affects not only Gretchen herself but her family and friends – in fact, without the support of her loved ones to guide every step of her journey, Gretchen’s story would have turned out quite differently.  This book is about so much more than illness; it is about one woman’s struggle toward peace in a world that is built for chaos.

Readers would be wise to open these pages with an unbiased mind.  Inspirational stories have been spread far and wide these days – though still, one could argue, nowhere near widely enough – yet The Silver Lining stands apart from similar accounts.  Walker spends just the right amount of time exploring her familial roots and the origins of her faith, then glides the narrative along to the more recent past where the majority of her story takes place.  This lends Walker’s writing an immediacy and a modern practicality that is so often missing from memoirs.  Both beautifully and honestly written, The Silver Lining proves that help often arrives from unanticipated allies, and that the best way to take control of your life is sometimes just to give the reins to a higher power.


Being You by Don M. Stonebraker


Don M. Stonebraker offers a charming look at deep philosophical questions of the self in his text Being You: How to Put More Energy into Your Real Self and Less into Your Programmed Self. Stonebraker combines the formatting of a self-help manual with the authenticity of a memoir in order to engage and educate those seeking better control of themselves and their surroundings. Stonebraker evokes the terms “Programmed Self” and “Real Self” to delineate a difference in the way that humans function and think within their own minds. He offers the Programmed Self as a created state of mind that inhibits the progress and benefits of the Real Self, outlining a variety of ways in which this occurs as well as a variety of ways in which it can be avoided. The text is bursting with references to dozens of other scientific articles and novels, providing additional resources along the reader’s journey to satisfy further interest and research into the subject.

The charm is real, and at no point is it possible while reading Being You, to doubt the author’s sincerity and desire to aid the seeking. However, whether Stonebraker is successful in his efforts is questionable. The text reads as though it is still in its first draft, with many contradictory statements and unnecessary appeals and apologies to its audience. The quotes pulled from various resources are all sound and offer delectable bits of wisdom, but they often feel misconstrued and improperly contextualized in order to fit certain points. While the research does not quite cohere the way that it might be expected to with later revisions and editing, it is clear that there is the will and the potential for Being You to have a resounding impact on the thinking and reading world- it’s just, perhaps, not quite there yet.


Simple Portfolio Strategies by Peter Casula Jr.


Have you thought about reviewing your portfolio recently? The average investor tends to make a few mistakes when evaluating their portfolio and investment choices. This guide gives an overview of the things you should be looking at first when you begin to build your portfolio. The key to portfolio success is risk management. So how do you assess the risk involved in investing in the current market? How do you evaluate the global economy and the stock market? This guide recommends using a short checklist of economic and stock market indicators to assess the short-term, intermediate, and long-term trends in the market. You will need to diagnose the potential risks and rewards from each of the model portfolios. In doing so, you can choose the model portfolio that fits the current or future trend in the economy and the stock market. This guide helps you to take this important first step of evaluating macro-economic and market trends.

Simple Portfolio Strategies brings together a cohesive blending of visual details and instructional brevity. High impact information often comes in small packages and Simple Portfolio Strategies is no exception. Appealing to anyone that is thinking about evaluating his or her portfolio on his or her own, Casula has delivered a decisive how-to guide. Where some investors may struggle to decide where and how to invest, Casula has devised a detailed plan for every type of investor from low risk seeking to investors who are willing to take on more risk. While visually stimulating and illustrative, the graphs and charts serve an important instructional component that drives home his written points.


I Spy with my Bionic Eye by Dianne Ashworth


In I Spy with my Bionic Eye, Dianne Ashworth brings readers through the journey of her bionic eye implant – the first ever of its kind. When Dianne was diagnosed during her early 20s, her vision quickly declined into not only partial, but near-complete blindness. Limited to only strings of light wiggling through her vision, Dianne decided to take an offer to be the first to partake in the breaking research that was being completed in Australia in 2012. Throughout the narrative, Dianne retells her journey through her young adulthood, how she worked through her disability, and how she came into the opportunity to receive such an implant. Dianne retells in detail the process of the surgeries, the testing of the eye itself, and her process of adjusting to the vision that the bionic eye is able to provide.

Ashworth’s narrative as a whole is fulfilling and educational, providing full insight into the entire range of emotions that she undertook in such a journey. Readers are given a full perspective into Ashworth’s understanding of the science behind the bionic eye. The research that was being performed on Ashworth herself was detailed in such a way that a reader of any background would be able to understand. Ashworth also successfully relays her experiences through a method that those who are not impaired are able to “see” the world the way that she does, both when the world around her is in complete darkness, and when she is completing her training to visualize through the bionic eye. The writing of the narrative, however, occasionally jumped back and forth from the current situation to side-thoughts, or to flashbacks to related instances in the past. The writing style made it apparent how Ashworth wished to convey herself as a person and a personality, but in these situations it was difficult to remain interested in the “present” when it so often jumped to different thoughts. Overall, the narrative itself was not only interesting but also an incredible one to follow. To know that the world of science is progressing so rapidly and successfully is encouraging, heart-warming, and a journey that many should and would love to read.


The Fight of Our Life: A True Story of Crisis, Hope, and Love by Catherine Hawley


In The Fight of Our Life: A True Story of Crisis, Hope, and Love, Catherine Hawley in heart-wrenching detail shares the story of her husband’s fight against brain cancer, and their ensuing struggle with the Canadian health system. Hawley diligently walks the reader through her husband Bill’s decades-long battle against brain cancer, as well as their final three years together. This storyline largely drives the book, outlining the events in a chronological manner. Hawley spends just as much time characterizing her marriage and her rich emotional life as she does methodically walking the reader through the maze that is Health Canada. Hawley brings the reader along through the processing of dealing with all the hurdles she had to jump and negative opinions and negligence that apparently exist in abundance. Despite all of this, as well as Bill’s unpredictable health, Hawley perseveres throughout the entire story, never giving up on her goal of a realistic yet meaningful life with her husband.

The narrative is written in a strong, clear voice that does not waver from its assertive tone, though the severity lessens to a soft, caring timbre as needed. Her personality shines through her writing and her storytelling, and we are able to see just how much she cares for her husband. Though cancer and brain injury might not quite be a niche topic, Hawley humanizes the struggle and makes it relatable to a wide audience. She succeeds in getting the reader to understand every way in which her life with Bill was forever altered. She constructs the narrative in such a way as to pull the reader into every situation that arises, all the while weaving in her critical arguments. Her writing style is descriptive, yet direct, and is still able to be immensely expressive. Alongside the story of her and her husband’s deep, loving bond, she’s able to provide some insight into what her experience was like, and how her thoughts were often conflicted and almost too much to handle. The story, as well as the social and medical implications brought up by Hawley, stay with the reader long after the book has been put down. Paired with a thorough policy analysis, this book has the possibility of making a strong critical argument in the national dialogue concerning the effectiveness of Health Canada.


7 Paths to Lasting Happiness by Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D.


happyFilled with powerful quotes, easy, yet profound exercises and a plethora of deep wisdom, 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness: Happiness is the Ultimate Success in Life! is a must have book for your self-help library. Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D., along with Jan Benson Lindsey, helps you explore your personal journey to happiness by showing you how to not only clear, but follow seven important paths. One of the first steps you take in 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness is taking the Life Satisfaction Survey shared by Gourgouris. Then you begin to move forward on to the paths. The first path is to love yourself, which is often a very challenging path for people. Gourgouris breaks this down into two parts to help you finally recognize what you are worth and discover how to actually balance everything in your life including physical balance, emotional balance, and spiritual balance. As you move into a path of gratitude Gourgouris expresses that you can learn from the “University of Adversity.” After all, “we all have to deal with troubles at one time or another,” so study and learn. The paths continue through the muck of forgiveness to the brilliance of soul nourishment and how to create loving relationships until you reach the final path of serving from the heart. Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D. and Jan Benson Lindsey offer you an opportunity to explore along the way while discovering how to enjoy your journey along each of the seven paths.

With thousands of self-help books on the market it is easy to sometimes encounter the same or similar concepts. Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D. shares a number of these concepts, but he does not leave you only with popular buzz words or phrases. Instead, he has shared in a way that makes them easy to grasp as well as painting this particular picture of happiness with a set of fresh paints and colors you may have never seen before. 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness is exceptionally easy to move through with its practical insights and actionable steps. This is one of those books you can randomly open to any page and suddenly be struck with amazing insight to help you fully open your arms and embrace happiness once and for all in your life. Get your pen and highlighter ready because you will be writing, making notes, and highlighting quotes and Gourgouris’ words of wisdom left and right. 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness truly is a chance to “reinvent your life.”


The Addict’s Mom: A Survival Guide by Cassandra Collins


addictAlcohol and drug addiction brings deep destruction into individual’s lives and the lives of their families. Cassandra A. Collins shares her personal journey through this extremely difficult, frightening, and sometimes shameful experience. The Addict’s Mom: A Survival Guide is exactly what it says it is – a financial, legal, and personal guide for parents of teens and adult children with drug and alcohol issues. Collins opens the book with her youngest son currently going through his second treatment program. Her transparent sharing of how not one, but both of her sons became addicted to drugs and alcohol is an opportunity for others to realize they are not alone. Collins shares where she and her husband made mistakes, and helps the reader have a better chance of not repeating such mistakes in their families. Even more The Addict’s Mom shares insight into life after treatment including legal issues and financial concerns. Broken down into three parts, this book is a fabulous resource that walks the reader through the trials and tribulations from a mother’s point of view.

Cassandra A. Collins has done a wonderful job compiling her family’s story alongside quite a few resources for other families, who may be facing similar situations. It is sincere and very practical. If you have a question or are curious about a specific aspect of addiction from treatment of addiction, to legal and financial considerations for the parents, to life after treatment including relapse, The Addict’s Mom: A Survival Guide has answers and resources for you. Covering the shoulds and the should nots, Cassandra A. Collins, a mom of a two addicts, has put together a desperately needed book for parents and close family members of addicts. Don’t remain in denial. Being an addict is not something that just magically goes away, and it impacts the entire family. The Addict’s Mom is a powerful resource to help parents and families truly survive and come out on the other side together.


Stories Under the Tail: Anecdotes from the Life of a Pilot by Captain Zeno Singer


Stories Under the Tail: Anecdotes from the Life of a Pilot is the memoir of author Zeno Singer’s experiences as a professional pilot. Covering several decades, Singer highlights the highs and lows of being a pilot. Singer visits some incredible places and immerses himself in different cultures. His detailed adventures may give some readers the itch to travel. Still, he does not skip over the sadness of fatal accidents or spare the reader the details of some unfortunate bowel accidents experienced by guests onboard a plane. Broken down into short stories, Singer comically introduces the reader to some interesting people. In one story, Singer tells of a pilot who control thinks is drunk and trying to fly a plane, when in reality the man is stone-cold sober. In another section, Singer introduces the touching story of the hopeful Georgina, a Greek woman who believes St. Michael is constantly watching over and providing for her. Because he balances the positive and the negative, the book is extraordinarily humanistic.

Singer’s book is broken down into quick stories so it’s easy to pick up for rapid reading. His best stories, the ones given the most detail, are the comical ones. The stories about the pilot’s mistresses and one about a prank played on a new flight attendant that caused the captain to fall out of the plane through the toilet are very amusing. Some of the stories are less enthralling and that may be in part that some of the terminology becomes a bit burdensome. Singer sometimes throws in terms or abbreviations related to the airplanes without explaining them or waiting to explain them later in the book. Overall, Singer’s book is an entertaining read for anyone who loves to learn about the world and is interested in stories about real people’s lives.


Reflections of the Other: Being Black In Germany by Ethel Morgan Smith


 “There we sat from different worlds, but we were sharing a similar pain, the pain of history.”

51tZlC8cA7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In Reflections, English professor Ethel Morgan Smith recounts her academic adventures in late twentieth-century Germany, a country characterized by a sometimes paradoxical openness to all topics of discussion and an unerring commitment to history and cultural heritage. A native of Georgia, Smith was teaching at West Virginia University in Morgantown when she decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship in Germany. The experience allowed her the opportunity of exploring her national and cultural identities outside of the American environment while generating discussions with her Germany students on a variety of topics, including race, feminism, politics, religion, and sexuality. With exacting detail, Smith describes both positive and negative encounters she had with the people of Germany, the most alarming of which involve a horde of neo-Nazis who chased her in a train station and an aggressively disrespectful student from one of her classes. Smith’s short time in Europe led to the creation of lifelong friendships, academic partnerships, and romantic entanglements alike, which, combined, make for a remarkably tender-hearted tale.

Reflections shows, through Smith’s numerous anecdotes, that the student-teacher relationship is vitally important for making societal progress. Though Germans don’t shy away from public debate as Americans do, the scenes here illustrate how some beliefs become so oft-repeated that they replace the truth, no matter how wild they may seem. For example, some of the Germans Smith spoke with refused to acknowledge that racism existed in their country while the unfortunate fact is, of course, that racism exists in one form or another in virtually every human settlement on the planet. While it can be occasionally stark, Reflections is ultimately an optimistic treatise on the power of education, tolerance, and the need to build a better world through intelligent discourse.

A Practical Guide to My China by John Sun


chinaAn informative, well-organized, and easy to follow travel guide, A Practical Guide to My China: How to Enjoy Traveling in Paradise and Avoid Travel Hell by John Sun is the perfect companion book for anyone who is planning on visiting the Chinese nation. Since the author was born in China, and has since returned multiple times to visit his homeland, he is very well versed in all aspects of the country. While the book is geared towards Westerners, it would be helpful for anyone who plans to visit Asia’s largest country. The introduction of the book gives a brief overview of the country, as well as helpful hints on how to best use the book. It details top cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, and top destinations like the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army, and Three Gorges Dam, just to name a few. In following sections, Sun describes the culture and customs of the nation, how to best plan your trip, the kind of cuisine and dining you can expect, how to set a budget for your trip, and other essential information deemed necessary that travelers should be aware of.

There are so many travel books out there, but what really makes this book special is the fact that it was written by a normal man, a traveler who is very familiar with the country he is discussing, thereby making the book accessible for the average traveler. With many black and white photographs, maps, and tables, there are additional ways for the reader to become acquainted with what they can expect in China. The way the book is set up makes it easy to understand the country step by step, first getting an idea of the major cities and attractions, and then delving more into the details of Chinese customs, and what travelers can expect in regards to hotels, restaurants, parks, and even what the prices of certain items will be. Sun gives helpful hints on transportation, and ways to stay healthy and safe while traveling in China. Throughout the book Chinese words and even Chinese characters are used, making the reader familiar with the language they experience while visiting this wonderful country. All in all this is a wonderful travel book, written by someone who knows the country thoroughly, with great advice on how to best experience the nation.


Longevity by John Chrysochoos, Ph.D.


71FVAX0RzPLThis semi-autobiographical work of nonfiction represents a studied exam-ination of numerous issues, dilemmas, and concerns facing the planet’s elderly.  The various topics discussed include suggestions as to how people may prepare for the challenges of old age, how the modern medical industry exploits and misleads our elderly, and how the elderly must continue to be integrated with their families and grandchildren, despite today’s changing social trends.  A carefully collated series of anecdotes is used to demonstrate how all of these topics have in some way influenced the author’s life and, more importantly, how he has overcome them.

‘Blue zone’ is the term given to certain isolated communities around the world whose inhabitants often live far beyond the average global life expectancy. Famous blue zones exist all around the world, including Central America, East Asia, and the Mediterranean.  Chrysochoos himself hails from the village of Ikaria in Greece, which is a well-established blue zone.  Given this unique yet dubious gift, Chrysochoos is the perfect person to engage readers in a discussion of what it means to successfully transition into old age.  He argues that despite society’s emphasis on wealth and prestige – which isn’t to say that financial security is not important to the elderly, because it certainly is – the most vital resource for maintaining one’s physical and mental health into advanced age is the support and involvement of one’s family. In one of the book’s most poignant chapters, Chrysochoos describes the symbiotic usefulness of mixed-age relationships: the vitality that young children bring to the elderly, and the wisdom that the elderly can bestow upon the young. While this is indisputably true, it is a fact often overlooked in a society that favors youthfulness and competition. In the end, Longevity contains lessons for both old and young readers alike.


Evita’s Favorite by Ana Cristina Evans Burgess


Evita’s Favorite by Ana Cristina Evans Burgess tells the story of the little known governor of the Argentinean province of Mendoza: Carlos Evans-Villanveua. Evans Burgess provides a personal account of the Nazi regime and its connection to the government where Carlos was a member. This book outlines Mr. Evans’ life, achievements, and his political accomplishments. It displays exactly how significant of a role he played within Argentina’s history.

Opening the book with Carlos Evan’s funeral and proceeding from there into the man’s life, gives the book a feel of reflection and remembrance rather than a book riddled with information. While Ana Cristina remembers things about her father and his time as governor, she reminds the world that there are things that have happened in the past and things that are currently happening that we don’t realize. It is wildly fascinating to see how Evans’ transformed the family values he grew up with into his political values. It is because of those values that Evita Peron chose him for the position of governor. Readers see the business relationship between the two through accounts of the Revolution, but also the friendship between the two as Ana Cristina remembers Evita’s funeral. “He wasn’t interested in having possessions; he wanted to be remembered as the best governor in the history of the province.” Such a powerful statement sums up everything that made Carlos Evans-Villanveua the man he was. Evita’s Favorite is an exceptionally well written historical account through the eyes of a loving daughter.


The Baltimore Canon by Thomas Archer


cover150x250When Thomas Archer was a young man, he made a decision that would change the rest of his life: enrolling in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.  The Baltimore Canon is the story of Thomas’s first journey aboard the ship of the same name, an antiquated yet somehow irresistibly beautiful collection of rusting steel parts.  As a new officer, Thomas is forced to quickly find his bearings and assimilate into maritime culture, which, when seen from afar, can appear slightly bizarre.  During the ship’s oil-bearing expedition across the Atlantic Ocean, Thomas learns more about his fellow sailors and discovers that sometimes being an officer comes with unexpected responsibilities.

Archer begins his autobiographical work by warning readers that the great majority of a ship’s voyage can often be quite tedious, regardless of what people may read about in thrillers or see at the movie theater.  And though there are certainly mundane chapters in this novel – as there are in any honestly told story of one’s life – The Baltimore Canon remains an interesting look into seagoing society.  Humorous and sobering anecdotes have mixed here to create a narrative that is both educational and entertaining. For example, Archer recounts the time he returned to his room to find that it had been infested by cockroaches; after trapping an exotic predatory insect – which he later nicknamed “the Geep” – and setting it loose in his room, Archer demonstrates a level of zany resourcefulness that is oftentimes necessary on a ship with limited amenities. In the novel’s epilogue, Archer writes about the difficulties he had re-assimilating to life on land, which includes a particularly memorable scene at a dinner his parents had organized in his honor. By devoting a bit more time to this chapter of his life – perhaps splitting the book between life at sea and at home – Archer might have crafted a more culturally jarring narrative.


Life & Soul of Bowls Downunder by Ross Thompson

In his book Life & Soul of Bowls Downunder, Ross Thompson discusses the history of various bowls clubs in Australia. He selected the clubs that shine among other clubs; those which contain a special story. Thompson’s book not only informs others of the roles each club has played in the success of the sport, but also tells others throughout the world the story of bowls. Thompson brings the world of bowls to life in his book in an engaging and informative way.

Bowls is a sport where the objective of the game is to roll balls so that they stop close to a smaller ball called a “jack” or “kitty.” The game is normally played outdoors on a flat surface. It seems similar to another game called bocce, where you roll large balls towards a small ball. Life & Soul of Bowls Downunder takes a look at several bowl clubs such as Sandy Bay, Mount Isa, Frances, and several others. It was interesting to read not only the history behind each club, but also the history of the sport. One club, Coolangatta, was suspended for a year because it defied the rules and regulations of the sport. Another club, Guyra, is known as the highest club in the world. Each one of the clubs has a fascinating story that makes readers want to not only try the sport, but also makes them want to visit each one of the clubs Thompson mentions. Readers can easily get wrapped up in the stories portrayed as much as they would in any fiction novel. The pictures Thompson included are an added pleasure because they show how some of the clubs look alike yet differ. The book is very well written, and provides a great deal of information. Any sports lover would enjoy this very well written and highly informative book.


Memoirs of a Game Dealer by Jeremy “Gambol” Jones

gameMemoirs of a Game Dealer by Jeremy “Gambol” Jones is a book about the daily life of a casino game dealer. The book tells a little bit about the game dealer’s life growing up, about his college experience, and how he came to the decision that he wanted to work in a casino. It mostly focuses on what it’s like in the casino itself, telling about the staff and how things are run- as well as describing what the players are like in great detail. The book tells of the game dealer’s training and his first year of working as a dealer through journal style entries which give it a very real and personal view into the world of the casino.

During his time spent as a dealer, it is plain to see Gambol’s disgruntled attitude and general disdain for most of the casino patrons. He also seems to dislike much of the staff, and frequently describes the people he comes in contact with as “degenerates.” It is somewhat disappointing that the game dealer develops such a negative outlook about a job he at first so looked forward to, but his description of the people and events clearly show how easy it would be to become jaded in this type of environment. Filled with interesting and often humorous anecdotes, the book makes the reader feel as if they are right there in the casino with the author. It is a fast-paced read that is difficult to put down, and it is edgy as well as exciting.


Miss Fortune by Albina Hume

All Albina Hume wanted was to either hide her inability to pronounce the letter “R” or correct it. Never did she think her inability would take her down the paths that it did. She struggled to find ways to hide her mispronunciation including trying to learn English. Her journey begins with her fear of being unable to find love and get married because a boy in her class called her a “crow” and in her mind ‘who would want to marry a crow?’ This instills her fear of the inability to pronounce words that start with the letter R. That fear takes her down many roads including a pyramid beauty business, strip clubs, and even a prison cell for 51 days. She encounters con men, unhealthy relationships and more. Everything she goes through drives her to find her dreams, yet she is held back by her fears. Once she releases those fears, the possibility for her dreams become endless.

From the very beginning, in the prologue, Hume pulls at the readers’ emotions as she describes her excitement for her wedding. While being introduced to the story, readers can’t help but wonder what significance the day has, until she reveals this day also happens to be the same date she was raped 10 years prior. Hume mentions this incident early on in the story giving the impression that the book will follow her journey to overcome it and the emotions related to the act. But once readers get to that point, it is done and over with, and Hume moves on to something else. With that being said the rest of the books keeps readers mystified as Hume struggles with her inability to pronounce the letter ‘R’, to being conned into traveling to Greece illegally, and being in jail for several days among other things. Despite everything the story is that of a woman who overcomes all her struggles to find that it is possible for dreams to come true. The tone of the book is very casual as if the author is speaking to a close personal friend; this allows the reader to feel connected with her and her story. It is very well written, and a great book to add to any collection.


It Takes a Village by Leonard M. Alexander

It Takes a Village: The Integration of the Hillburn School System by Leonard M. Alexander with Peter C. Alexander tells the true story of the segregated schools that were once in existence in Hillburn, New York. While many people usually think of schools being segregated by race as only existing in the south before the historic ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, there were certainly some segregated schools in communities of the north, as this book so thoroughly chronicles. In Hillburn, there were two grammar schools, one that had all of the amenities necessary for the white children, and another that was severely lacking in facilities for the black children. Through the use of maps, photographs, and letters, the authors depict what the different schools were like in this area, and how two men, Thomas Ulysses Alexander and Thurgood Marshall, did everything they could to improve the situation and truly make the education system equal for all.

While this book is not very long, Alexander includes all of the necessary information to shed light on this small village in the state of New York, depicting what it was like to live in the area when the schools still segregated children based on the color of their skin. The writing is well organized and clearly well researched, painting a full picture of Hillburn’s school system. As Alexander is a native of Hillburn, his passion for the community and its history shines through on the page, even for a topic as bleak as this. Since his father, Thomas Ulysses Alexander played such a significant role in getting the schools to desegregate; he has an important personal connection to the history explored in this book. Luckily for him, and every other citizen of Hillburn, justice was eventually served.


From Firing Squad to Living the American Dream by Charlotte Liebig

9781634182300medCharlotte Liebig was born in Poland less than a decade before the start of World War II. Her father worked for a railroad company and died when Charlotte was young; her mother, a chef, ran the kitchen at the railroad station restaurant. As a young girl, Charlotte was known for playing innocent pranks on people and staying out too late after her mother had called her home. But her childhood innocence was interrupted when German troops invaded Poland in 1939, radically altering life there. Following these fateful events, Charlotte recounts the many hardships her mother, brother, and sister faced as the family coped first with one regime (Germany) and then with another (Russia). Remarkably, the story ends well for everyone: after Charlotte met her future husband at university, the family conspired to immigrate to the United States, where they could escape the numerous horrors they had encountered living behind the Iron Curtain.

From Firing Squad to Living the American Dream shows how powerful stories can truly be. Thankfully, many of us alive today would have trouble comprehending what life must have been like for people affected by World War II, as Charlotte’s family was, but that makes this account all the more important. Charlotte relates, with humor, the happy memories from her childhood – like the time her mother sent someone dressed up as Santa Claus to scare her off the ice when she had been skating after dark – but neither is she afraid to describe, in startling detail, the hardships that she and her kin encountered as they sought to escape airstrikes and hostile troops. Hopefully, this biography will serve to inspire today’s generation to improve the world around them, and to appreciate the many luxuries we enjoy as a modern society.


Hot Fudge Sundaes for Breakfast by Kevin McConaghy

cover225x225In this autobiographical novel, Staff Sergeant Kevin McConaghy has recently returned from a sixteen-month-long tour of duty in Iraq, but transitioning from soldier back to civilian is proving to be more difficult than Kevin’s friends and family and coworkers realize. Suffering from PTSD, Kevin seeks therapy with a psychiatrist, though the sessions are anything but helpful and only leave him feeling more upset. Kevin now feels a division between himself and his fellow Americans that makes every day a battle, every conversation a struggle. In a narrative that jumps between life in the United States and the war overseas, readers will be given a perspective on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East that likely differs from what one often sees on TV or reads in the newspaper.

This is the type of book that is difficult to read – but, nevertheless, it is necessary that we do read it. So often in talks about war, we lack personal accounts from the men and women who served overseas. We read about large-scale battles, but rarely about the very real effects of war on an individual’s mind and psychological well-being. Here, the book’s strongest moments occur when Kevin holds a mirror up to society, showing us what it’s like to exist on the other side of things, as in a particularly powerful scene where he steps off a plane at the airport and is greeted by numerous travelers who only wish to express their gratitude for his service but, in doing so, fail to acknowledge how the person they are thanking might feel about that. Kevin is so overwhelmed by the endlessly repeated thank yous that he pretends to have a phone conversation with his mother to avoid further interruption. Though at times it is hard to stomach, Hot Fudge Sundaes for Breakfast is an unerringly honest documentation of one soldier’s experiences and a grim discussion of both the harsh realities of war and the fragile, fool-hardy hubris of a young and powerful nation.


I Took Both Roads by David Matteson

David Matteson’s I Took Both Roads: My Journey as a Bisexual Husband is an account of Matteson’s experiences as a bisexual male, who first became aware of his sexuality in the early 1950s, a dangerous time to be seen as different from the norm. Matteson’s story is both eye opening and inspiring and is as much an account of his incredible and supportive relationships with others – his parents, his spiritual advisors, his God, and particularly his wife – as it is an account of what it is like to be bisexual. Matteson is incredibly blessed to have had amazing parents, who encouraged his curiousity and confidence, which allowed him to profess and live his belief in a Christianity that “had to do with Love, not with the authority of the Bible, [which] made it possible for [him] to be open to the many forms of love, including same-gender love.” Furthermore, his mother had early on educated Matteson to believe that it was quite common for adolescent boys to explore their sexuality with each other, leaving him without the shame and despair that, unfortunately, many other LGBT youth often feel upon realizing that they are “different.” This is not to say that Matteson did not struggle with his identity. He admits to feeling different from other boys his own age, though he admits that “[d]uring early adulthood, [he] remained unconscious of [his] same-gender desires.” This struggle became more intense when he became conscious of his attraction to other men. Matteson was supported in this struggle by his faith and by his incredible relationship with his wife, Melissa, who, time and again, allowed her husband to explore his sexual needs and desires with no judgement or disdain, committing repeatedly to love and honor her husband.

Matteson skillfully brings the reader on a journey through his life, leaving out nothing, which allows the reader to not only sympathize with him, but also to empathize with him. Matteson details his evolving relationship with God and his wife, Melissa, intertwined with his exploration of his sexuality, and these juxtapositions, through Matteson’s creative use of language, make perfect sense. Matteson introduces his story by acknowledging his “hope…that reading [his] story will help you to develop a deeper understanding of, and empathy for, those whose sexual orientation is different from your own, and those who have gone through changes in their identity during the course of their married life.” Matteson’s story does exactly that and is a timely, sensitive exploration of a topic through a loving and accepting lens. Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” with its implications about life’s choices is a recurrent motif in Matteson’s book, and readers will come to understand that they, like Matteson, need not recall their choices, as does Frost’s speaker, “with a sigh” of regret, but can instead proudly take both, though seemingly divergent, roads.”


Harebrained by Meg Myers Morgan

harebrainedHarebrained: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time is the memoir of Meg Myers Morgan, a professor, graduate student, mother, and wife with a quirky sense of humor and a collection of hilarious experiences. In her collection of essays, Morgan comically captures the hectic life of a working mother struggling to get her family ready for the day while answering the demanding questions asked by her curious three year old daughter. Each page of this memoir will leave any reader laughing out loud from start to finish.

Morgan is a lovable narrator with the gift of story telling, and it is evident through the depiction of her hilarious life adventures, such as, her experience working as a mascot, and her very first bikini wax at age 30. She also details the strange quirks about herself that really show why the title Harebrained is just so fitting for this collection of essays. With her down-to-earth, sometimes a bit vulgar language, Morgan is never failing to entertain the reader with her relatable struggles and side splitting commentary. Whether she is telling about her confusion between right and left, or explaining the unconditional love of her husband who puts up with her bedside pile of dried up contacts, Morgan is sure to have readers fall in love with her hilariously harebrained personality! Harebrained is a lighthearted read that is a definite page turner. It is clear why Morgan decided to put her hilariously unique life on paper, to share her many misadventures with fun loving readers who enjoy a good laugh.


In Search of Piétons by Bill Bolton


pietonsIn Search of Piétons: A Photo Documentary by Bill Bolton is a book that is composed of a collection of photos that display the various signs at pedestrian cross walks throughout France. The book discusses the process the author used in capturing the images in detail. Since the project was done in the days before digital cameras, it was fairly complicated for him to get clear, bright photos of the “walk” and “don’t walk” figures in the same picture. It was particularly interesting to the author that there were so many variations of these cross walk signs, or piétons, and he was quite surprised when he found over two dozen different styles of these signs.

This book does a pretty good job of making what could very easily be pretty boring subject matter into a brief work that is compelling enough to want to read it and examine the author’s photos in one sitting. Along with each picture is a link to a map of the intersection where the photo was taken, but after looking at a few of the maps, they seem like a somewhat unnecessary addition to the photo documentary. Unfortunately, the photos themselves are very simple and require little more than a brief glance to take each one in. It ends up feeling as though far too much work was put into gathering the images for a result that is largely unimpressive. While it was entertaining to learn about the author’s journey and what he went through in his search of unique cross walk signs, it is difficult not to wish that his talent and expertise had been spent photographing and writing about something else.


Food, Sex, Wine, and Cigars – A Memoir by Lisa Stalvey


As we began reading Lisa Stalvey’s book, Food, Sex, Wine, and Cigars—A Memoir, we were intrigued by the idea of what a world-renowned chef’s life was like. Stalvey shared how she had an apprenticeship under Wolfgang Puck and was hired by Paul Newman to create his Newman’s Own products, such as his famous salad dressings and steak sauce. Yet, as we read through Food, Sex, Wine and Cigars we quickly came to realize that it was difficult to follow Stalvey’s train of thought. She often jumps tracks from one idea to another and back again. Of course, her transparency with her unstable state of mind, during the period of time she focused on for this memoir, will either shock you or touch your heart. A powerful story of anorexia, mental health issues, and selfish behaviors jumps blatantly off page after page. Yet, there is an even deeper aspect to her story. Her challenges were not just physical and psychological. She faced a spiritual unhealthiness as well. She carries you through seven years of her life in this memoir showing you how it, her amazing career as a top-notch professional chef, all began.

Food, Sex, Wine, and Cigars—A Memoir is a book that may leave you feeling scattered and confused at times. Perhaps, you will wonder, as we did, why Lisa Stalvey included some of her recipes in the midst of her writing. Honestly, we were a bit put off by the sharing of a recipe entitled, Anorexic Breakfast. Yes, the recipes coincided with the story she was sharing at that point in the memoir, but they still felt out of place. What we liked most about Stalvey’s writing is how transparent and vulnerable she was. She appears to fully pull back the curtain and let you see just how all that she went through was part of a spiritual journey for her. Food, Sex, Wine and Cigars, though it could have used a bit more editing and re-organization, could very easily be an inspiration to others.


Das Haus in East Berlin by J. Arthur Heise & Melanie Kuhr


Undoubtedly a must-read for any German or American, Das Haus: In East Berlin chronicles the long and arduous journey of two individuals forever connected to the Holocaust. In a joint writing effort, J. Arthur Heise and Melanie Kuhr recall their memories of growing up in German-American families, and the events that led to a legal battle for control of a deteriorating, East German home. While the immigrant Heise became a successful reporter and founding dean of Florida International’s school of journalism, the dark memories of his childhood home cast a spell over his conscious, especially when rumors of his father’s past threatened the family legacy. On the other hand, American-born Melanie Kuhr knew little about her family’s German past but ultimately rediscovered her Jewish heritage while learning about her relatives who may or may not have sold their home to the father of J. Arthur Heise.

The legalities of this harrowing story may initially appear cumbersome to some readers, however the text is presented in a highly accessible vignette style. Each writer establishes the historical context for their eventual meeting, and the heart-breaking details remind of a time when daily survival trumped future plans. The investigation by Heise into both his father and brother’s past will challenge any reader’s tear ducts, while Kuhr’s descriptions of her misgivings set the tone for a heart-warming conclusion. The occasional use of bold text and italics seems unnecessary, but it’s only a minor critique for two strong-willed individuals who overcame differences to find a mutual truth. Das Haus not only provides a valuable history lesson for old and young readers alike, but also reinforces the fact that mutual respect always makes life easier. Despite their initial clash, Heise and Kuhr collaborated once again for a poignant story of familial bonds.


Dysfunctional One by John Davies

An autobiographical memoir that focuses on his time living in the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dysfunctional One by John Davies tells the story of one man’s journey for survival as he strives against both chaotic governments, and a family that is often at odds. We follow John after his birth in a small village called Kissy Mess-Mess, which is located in the suburb of Freetown, Sierra Leone, in July 1954. From here the book is mostly told in a linear chronological order, as we learn about Davies’ parents who separated while he was young, and the churning political turmoil that existed in Sierra Leone, and the neighboring country of Liberia. John must try to find a certain sense of balance as he moves forward in life, trying to justify his love for his homeland while also recognizing that the places that he’s grown up in are not stable enough to raise a family of his own.

Coming in at nearly six hundred pages, Dysfunctional One is full of firsthand accounts and experiences from someone who witnessed a great deal while living in these two countries in West Africa. Moving from the slums, to places of higher power in the political sphere, Davies has a varied life story that was never once dull to read about. At times, the narrative could be a little dense as there is so much information being relayed to the reader, and not much dialogue placed throughout the book, but nevertheless, this volume is a reflective and revealing account about an area of the world that not too many people of the general public are familiar with. Reading in parts as a sort of text book, it could even be useful in college classrooms in the vein of African Studies.


A Practical Philosophy of External Mindfulness by J. Casey


A Practical Philosophy of External Mindfulness: 360 Days of Daily Practice is a book written by J. Casey that asks the reader to find a sense of inner harmony by stepping away from one’s self and their own personal issues, to focus on the larger picture, which is the world that surrounds us all. As Casey states in her preface, the number 360 was selected as the number of days due to the belief of ancient cultures that this was the amount of days in a year, and for the 360 degrees that exist in a full circle, bringing about a certain sense of balance to our reality. Original designed symbols are used throughout the book to represent the different ideals of external mindfulness in a tangible form. As Casey explains, mindfulness is a self-awareness of the self alone, while external mindfulness is an openness an individual achieves when they are more attuned to those around them, and how the world works in all of its intricate parts. The ability to obtain this realm of higher thought is not necessarily easy to achieve however, but that is where this book comes in, as J. Casey offers examples and personal experiences to help enlighten the reader about this philosophy.

Although this may sound like a confusing and difficult topic to understand, J. Casey presents external mindfulness in an easy to follow manner that is organized into a book that is an enjoyable read. For most of the book, she offers ideas and personal moments of her own life, and then follows them with a section of ‘Higher Thought’ that ties this topic back to the main goals of external mindfulness. While at times the overall philosophy of obtaining this plateau of inner and outer peace may seem somewhat vague and unclear, ultimately, author J. Casey succeeds at introducing and explaining the topic to the average reader in a manner that is easy to digest.


Connecting Happiness and Success by Ray White


whiteRay White has written an amazing and profound book that can transform your life for good.  In Connecting Happiness and Success: A Guide to Creating Success Through Happiness, he shares a ton of insight, research, and mini-stories to express the importance of recognizing what happiness and success really mean to you.  Connecting Happiness and Success gripped me from the first few lines.  White wants you to ask how diligently seeking success can potentially bring you tragedy and death instead of happiness and joy.  He repeated this concept in the first few pages, and I believe it is well worth repeating it here: “Success doesn’t lead to happiness.  Happiness leads to success.”  Profound!  Moving through the seven concepts in the book you will travel along a path that can help you create your own personal happiness, which will ultimately lead you to your personal success.

Connecting Happiness and Success is more than just a book.  It can be your mentor, your guide, or even a catalyst to take control of your life.  Within the wonderful activities Ray White shares throughout the book you get to define what happiness is for you and craft a plan to create your own personal happiness and success.  White’s book helps you recognize, release and remove stress and tension in the pursuit of success and happiness in your life.  You can even learn ways to interweave a level of personal control into areas in which you previously believed you had none.  This is a must read book.  Well-written, insightful and full of wisdom, I simply loved it!


East in Eden by Izabela Shopova


Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to live in a moist, mossy ecosystem that time seems to have forgotten, where fishing is the thing to do, the locals adorn themselves in seasonally mismatched attire, and straight vodka is an unheard-of concept? If so, East in Eden by Bulgarian author Izabela Shopova is right up your alley. Call it a travelogue, diary of a born nomad, or makeshift social study, this no-holds-barred nonfiction title is a delightfully entertaining first-person account of Shopova’s experiences living in New Zealand for six years with her husband and daughter. A considerably comprehensive yet entirely unintimidating work, it covers a wide array of interesting topics, from New Zealand’s history, climate, government, natural wonders, and real estate market, to its cuisine, traffic patterns, unique customs, awkward national bird, plumbing, and beyond. The chapters feature narratives, both comic and insightful, that recount Shopova’s immersion in detailed hindsight, followed by letters she wrote to others while biding her time in what has been coined the “Last Eden on Earth.” Also included, near the conclusion of Shopova’s personal story, are jokes about the natives; short bios on famous New Zealanders, including celebrated film icons, athletes, and authors; recipes for a variety of palate-pleasing New Zealand dishes; and a list of valuable internet resources pertaining to the country.

Whether you’re preparing for travel abroad, intrigued by different cultures, or simply looking for some good laugh-out-loud anecdotes, this snapshot of an Eastern European lost in Earth’s last Eden is sure to meet your expectations and then some. Shopova’s writing style is quite compelling and candid, and it’s made rich with factual information, personal investment, and humor. Her sincere observations about the land and its people are delivered alongside playfully caustic criticisms of them and episodes of extreme culture shock in response to their behavior and lifestyle choices, as compared to the way of life in the rest of the Western World and, in particular, in Eastern Europe. With plenty to fuel both laughter and learning, East in Eden is fun-filled and fulfilling and will carry you on a one-of-a-kind journey.


My Violin Teacher Quit Me: A Memoir by Lia Murty



A sassy, humorous account of life experiences from Lia Murty, My Violin Teacher Quit Me: A Memoir, will have you giggling to gaping in shock at the honesty.  More importantly, you very possibly will feel like giving a rebel yell and shouting, “Yeehaw! I am not the only one.”  If you have ever felt like there was something more – something you just couldn’t put your finger on, but deep down knew it was out there for you then Murty’s memoir is a book you should pick up and read.  Mind you, the writing jumps around at times and the concepts or topics even within paragraphs are scattered and chaotic now and again.  Yet, even though you might hear the funny use of “Squirrel!” in your mind, you don’t really get lost because there is a structure to Lia Murty’s chaos.

If you are willing to read about bathroom episodes, IUDs, being skinny, being fat, postpartum, and how “life is too short to be too serious,” then Lia Murty’s, My Violin Teacher Quit Me: A Memoir, may keep your attention from start to finish.  We all have interesting lives if we take the time to look at them.  Murty has offered you an opportunity to sit alongside her as she reflects back on a number of her experiences.  Her memoir almost made me feel as though we were going through her diary entries over the years.  Sometimes the stories jump back a number of years, but no matter where she takes you in her life you will feel her sometimes-flippant attitude as well as her innate humor.  Let your guard down and open to your inner comic so that you, too, can relate and giggle your way through to the last page.


The Present Heart by Polly Young-Eisendrath

four stars

Polly Young-Eisendrath’s autobiographical book is a raw and honest telling of the challenges that one faces when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Polly’s third husband, Ed, who she affirms is the love of her life, is tragically diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Her book takes on the enormous topic of defining love, and offers insight into every type of relationship we experience in our lifetimes.  Drawing on her career as a psychologist and her Buddhist practices, Young-Eisendrath finds illumination in her struggles with her husband’s quickly declining health.

What’s refreshing – and a little unnerving at first – about The Present Heart is Young-Eisendrath’s unapologetic tone.  She is not afraid to clarify how difficult Ed’s illness has been on her or to address that other’s people’s well-meaning but sympathetic remarks can often have the opposite effect.  She applies a balance of humorous and emotional situations as examples to convey her points. Her idea that romantic love must be a “two-way street” is fittingly argued and can easily lead to philosophical conversations amongst her readers.  The one struggle with this book was getting through the psychological and Buddhist terms that would require more education in order to be better understood.  Young-Eisendrath does an apt job of trying to define these terms and concepts, but they seem like they are very large ideas.  Nonetheless, the main point of love in relationships is a familiarity with which every reader can identify.  The book is well thought out and her argument is clear.


Icarus Falling by Christopher Paul Meyer


Icarus Falling is everything that its subtitle says about itself: it’s about a nightclub bouncer, an aspiring movie star, a poor, financially suffering soul – all wrapped into one person, Christopher Meyer. Through flashbacks and through Meyer’s daily struggles, we are given a glimpse into the life of a thirty-something living in Los Angeles. From his chance at lead role on a hit show during pilot season, to his downfall and low point of possibly living out of his truck, we see the growth that is allowed (or prohibited) during the struggles of everyday life in the City of Angels. Early on in Icarus Falling, Meyer lands a position as a bouncer at a nightclub, slowly working his ways through the ranks to supervisor. Eventually, Meyer finds himself content with his lifestyle. He enjoys his job, blows off steam at ju-jitsu classes, and even finds love…that is, until his love leaves him. Meyer begins to dread working, avoids his ex, and finds himself in an endless circle of on-again-off-again confusion. The remainder of the memoir deals with Meyer and his constant desire to be the “hero” and to respond to his “bat signals” at work, encompassing himself in fights, keeping his business intact, and living through the adrenaline of a nightclub bouncer job. When the day-to-day begins to wear Meyer down, he eventually discovers the only way to relieve his stress…a discovery that is a journey from beginning to end.

In thus memoir, readers are constantly enthralled with the daily events of what it takes to be a nightclub bouncer. The stories from one day to the next of New Yorker gone Cali give readers the rush of adrenaline that Meyer himself felt every night of his life. Readers find themselves thrown into the action of the story, and are able to connect with each of the characters of the narrative in various ways. What is most exciting about the read is the connection that is formed between readers and Meyer – though he at first just appears to be “one of those LA guys,” we discover that there is a level-headed soul inside, and one that never loses sight of himself. Icarus Falling is an exciting read from the first page, and with romance, lust, action, and loss, it’s hard not to love such a true story.


Djoliba Crossing: Journeys into West African Music and Culture by Dave Kobrenski


Djoliba Crossing: Journeys into West African Music and Culture is a beautifully constructed book written and illustrated by Dave Kobrenski that chronicles the diverse and rich musical traditions that exist in the Niger River valley in Guinea, West Africa. Through his firsthand experiences with the Mande people, Kobrenski learned a great deal about the culture, practices, rituals, and ideology of this African civilization. The book is very much a case study in the field of anthropology, as the author recounts stories that speak the truths of the Mandes. This book would be a perfect addition to any university’s Cultural Anthropology curriculum, as there are so many interesting facts presented here that students would take pleasure in studying and discussing. In addition to the informative text, Kobrenski has also included several photographs, and many beautiful full page paintings that depict the African people, their homeland, practices, and general ways of life. Throughout this narrative we learn how important the great river Djoliba is to the people, how music and dance are integral to daily life, and what many native words of the Mande signify.

Part of the main reason why this book is such a treasure is because of how expertly Kobrenski has put it together. You can tell right away from picking up Djoliba Crossing how much his time spent with the Mande people of West Africa has meant to him, as he carefully explains their many practices and customs, and through the beautiful illustrations he has made to go along with the words he’s written. Stylistically, we wish we saw more books that were on par with this high level of production, because it really makes the book stand out and shine. Through personal accounts, stories, explanations, and definitions, the information presented is organized and easy to follow. Having majored in Anthroplogy in college, I can honestly say that this is one of the nicest text books exploring a specific aspect of a culture that I have ever seen. The best part about the book is that it is sure to appeal to both anthropologists and general book lovers alike. Djoliba Crossing: Journeys into West African Music and Culture will look great on any shelf, no matter who you are, or where your interests lie.


Ples Balus by Pete Winston Brown

four stars

Ples Balus: One Man’s Struggle for Survival in New Guinea is an interesting tale and memoir about a man building a successful aviation company in a land that is quite young in its modern civilization. Author, Winston Brown, paints a colorful picture of struggle, achievement, violent attacks, astonishing healing, and weightiness of powerful, yet difficult decisions. Brown shares with the reader the main character, Hairy’s, experiences as he works his way through creating a highly successful aviation company, but he also shares Hairy’s wife’s perspective through diary like entries when Hairy ends up fighting for his life in the hospital. Hairy has achieved so much. However, he is unwittingly removed from his position of manager of the company and natives of the New Guinea town attacked him, which led to his battle to recover. Will he be able to recover? Who wanted him out of a powerful leadership role, and why did the natives launch such a violent attack on him?

Winston Brown offers you a slew of details as the story of Ples Balus moves back and forth from scenes that are apparently in the present to scenes that occurred previously. There are a large number of characters to keep track of if one wants to fully grasp the story line. With such an intricate story, the reader can relish the rich and undeniably, thought provoking experiences and goings-on in Ples Balus: One Man’s Struggle for Survival in New Guinea. We so often forget how challenging life really can be, but Brown shares what one man faced which opens the reader’s mind to the potential of deeper struggle than he or she may have imagined. Yet, those struggles can lead to even greater strength, higher achievement and happiness.


The Legacy Rule by J. Nathan, Ph.D.


legacyJ. Nathan, Ph.D. really lays down a powerful and strong case for making dramatic changes in how we live our lives in his non-fiction book, The Legacy Rule. His view is that if we do not make a number of huge shifts in how we treat our planet and how we think, the world as we know it will drastically come to an end by the end of this century. In fact, he suggests that the world will return to far more basic ways of living. He makes a powerful point about over-population of Earth. This is the core theme of the book. The planet’s resources are severely being diminished and they are not infinite. Nathan states that people are oblivious to what will happen due to exponential growth. They do not realize there is a tipping point at which time things will take a devastating downturn. He really dives into the results of having less people on Earth, and promotes the concept of implementing The Legacy Rule: “Love all the children you can, but create no more than one or two if you as yet have none.”

With a long background in psychology and scientific studies, author, J. Nathan, Ph.D., offers the reader a great deal of insightful information to support his point of view. At the same time, he makes it quite clear in the beginning that he realizes not everyone will read the entire book; therefore, he tells the reader where the best stopping places are within the book if one is not opting to read it in its entirety. The Legacy Rule is not a book to be viewed as academic or scholarly writing. However, it is very well written and jam-packed with information. If one wants future generations to live healthy, happy lives, then taking the time to read, ponder and perhaps, take action on the concepts and information shared in this book is well worth it.


On the Road to Find Out by Jamie Sloan

four stars

On the Road to Find Out is a traveling memoir that follows author Jamie Sloan as she journeys around the world in the search to find herself. The narrative beings in 1998, when Jamie “Jaz” Sloan finds herself at a point in her life where she feels the need to explore and find out what will really wants. At the age of twenty-seven she decides she wants to leave the comfort and safety of America to venture out into the world and discover places unknown. She boards a plane with a ticket to travel the globe, and finds herself in various places in all sorts of different countries. From jungles in Nepal, to the beaches of Greece, to crazy nightlife in Australia, to the Irish countryside, Jamie experiences a great deal she never imagined she would, meeting new people and learning about her identity along the way. Throughout the narrative Jamie often wonders about how and when she will be getting home, and how changed she will be when she finally arrives back there.

Something that makes On the Road to Find Out so special is how Sloan recounts her experiences and the locations she visited in such a realistic and honest way. The reader learns just as she does, and truly feels as if they are also immersed in the different cultures and places that the author visited throughout her adventure. The travel memoir is unpredictable in many ways, so it keeps the reader’s interest, as they want to find out what happens next, or where Jamie will end up next. A coming of age story for a woman in her late twenties that many are sure to relate with, On the Road to Find Out is a thoroughly enjoyable read.


Dancing with Daddy by Barbara Ann Gareis

four stars

She glided across the living room floor at two years old, dancing on her daddy’s feet to the tune of Al Martino’s “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and less than two decades later she swayed to the same song with him on her wedding day. But between these two points in time, a lot happened, and Barbara Ann (Clugsten) Gareis went from standing on her daddy’s feet, to stepping on his toes, and, finally, standing on her own. Dancing with Daddy chronicles Barbara Ann’s life as a daughter, woman, and child of Christ, recounting all the pits and peaks she encountered growing up and cleverly conveying the lessons she learned along the way. A vibrant and compelling piece of creative nonfiction, it follows her from childhood to early adulthood, concluding just after her father’s untimely death, and details the detours she took on her journey from innocence to maturity, including her troublesome trials and tribulations with alcohol, drugs, and men. Many of the things Barbara Ann did during her teen years offended her father’s sensibilities as both a parent and a seasoned law enforcement professional, but, nonetheless, despite her dalliances with danger and disappointment, his love for her—and faith in her—remained steady and did not yield. Only after she made it through her rough patch was Barbara Ann able to fully appreciate what an amazing ally her father had been…but just as she came to realize these things and her new, enlightened life began, her father’s life came to an abrupt end.

Dancing with Daddy by Barbara Ann Gareis is a deeply personal, probing memoir that’s very realistic, easy to relate to, and full of hope. It reminds us that life is short and full of surprises and that we all make mistakes, but can find redemption, forgiveness, and possibility when we work to turn our paths right again. As much a tribute to a father’s love as a testament of a daughter’s strength, Dancing with Daddy is sure to touch your heart and open your eyes to the treasured relationships you have in your own life, with your family, your friends and yourself.


Broken Child Mended Man by Adam Starks

four stars

Adam Starks, Ph.D. shares a memoir of his life in Broken Child Mended Man. He shares his experiences as a black child born to an alcoholic mother, who has dreams of being a songwriter. His life began in California only to have it uprooted and transplanted to the countryside of Virginia before kindergarten. Many days he went without food and was forced to take drastic measures to feed his hunger. A lot of people think they had a rough or unhappy childhood, but until you see into the reality of someone who experienced an exceptionally unpleasant youth you can’t grasp how good you probably had it. Eventually, Starks’ mother lost custody of him and his siblings. He was separated from two of his brothers while being placed in a foster home with one of his other brothers. There were good and bad aspects to that home, and few years later he was placed in a new foster home. As Starks grew into a man, he wanted to stop the cycle and be the best person, husband and father he could be. He didn’t want to be someone who had been hurt that in turn hurt others.

This account by Adam Starks of a broken child growing into a mended man is a well written account. He shares a good amount of details to help the reader truly sense what he went through. His writing offers the reader an opportunity to almost walk in his shoes for a while. Many people will discover things about themselves within these pages that they didn’t realize before, even if their experiences were quite different. This is a striking story of one man not allowing his past to dictate his future.


Portrait of Woman in Ink: a Tattoo Storybook by Kelly Hitchcock


Kelly Hitchcock’s book, Portrait of Woman in Ink: a Tattoo Storybook, tells the tales of twelve women, all with meaningful stories behind their tattoos.  Each woman has her own section of the book, detailing her life before, during, and after her decision to tattoo her body.  Though each story varies from each other drastically, all of the women relate to one another – in more ways than one.  Some of the women were best friends, some were a single moment in another’s life, but all had an impact in some way.  Throughout the book, readers delve into the lives of the women, learning what makes each of them turn, what pushes them along, and what their tattoos truly mean.

Hitchcock’s stories create an emotional attachment to the individuals chronicled here, a clear eye into the soul and lives of each of these women.  Twelve real-life women inspired these stories by Hitchcock, and the realistic nature of the sections makes this an unsurprising fact.  Even so, as the stories progress, the sense of wonder of how all of these stories connect intensifies.  The women in the stories are powerful, strong, and independent, all with a tale behind how they became the women that they are, and how they are going to remain true to themselves and those they love.  Each of the tattoos are illustrated throughout the book by the original tattoo artist, which provides further insight into what each of the women were thinking and living during the time they had the artwork placed on their bodies.  The ability of one instance in another’s life to impact them for years to come is an important theme throughout the book, and one that resonates long after the stories are finished.


Qi Infused Yoga by Brenda Schnable


A great guide that can help both beginners and experts at practicing yoga, Brenda Schnable’s Qi Infused Yoga is a straight-forward and enlightening self-help book. By combining two ancient practices into one, Qi Infused Yoga creates an innovative mind and body experience. Qigong movements are coupled with yoga asanas that results in a singular flowing practice that is sure to benefit anyone who performs these techniques. The kind of yoga that Schnable describes in this book can be practiced by anyone, but she claims that it is especially good for older adults. By reading this book you will learn how to harness your inner power, detoxify your body, increase your energy, and improve your focus. Through the tables, lists, sections of textual information, and pictures of yoga positions presented here, the reader is able to follow these kinds of practices, and learn quickly how to perform them on their own without the help of the book. Even though the book contains a great deal of content to digest, Schnable has organized her book in a way that is easy to follow.

Just like her other book about yoga, Access Your Inner Power, this book, Qi Infused Yoga, is very well executed, by offering up pages that fit both form and function. The abundance of pictures of Schnable actually performing the yoga positions is a true highlight, as they are sure to be helpful to anyone who is aiming to capture the practices she writes about. Not only are there pictures about these positions, but the book also contains explanations and steps on how to perform the poses in the way they are meant to be. The cover design of the book is also exceptionally well done, by representing both a calming and intriguing image that makes the reader want to explore the kinds of yoga practices that Schnable does so well explaining inside these pages.


Access Your Inner Power: Awakening Your Health and Vitality by Brenda Schnable

four stars

A helpful and informative guide that explains how yoga can benefit the body and mind, Access Your Inner Power: Awakening Your Health and Vitality by Brenda Schnable is sure to be a hit with anyone who enjoys practicing yoga. Through the well explained examples and topics covered through the text she has written, as well as the multiple photographs, diagrams, and tables that are included throughout the book, Schnable has constructed an easy to follow guide that will bring readers balance to their lives by using the techniques described here. By using Qi Infused Yoga (which also happens to be the title of Schnable’s other fabulous book about yoga practices) those who practice this form of exercise can ease common ailments such as stress, headaches, anxiety, sleeping problems, digestive issues, and even back pain. Readers will become familiar with terms like chakra, kapha, mudras, and more, all which will assist in learning about how to perfect this practice.

As a yoga therapist, Schnable is clearly a very experienced teacher in the techniques and practices she describes within her book. By keeping the structure of the book organized and easy to follow, even a yoga amateur will benefit from reading the information that she has provided within these pages. Yoga is helpful in terms of a person’s health, fluidity, state of mind, and general well being. The author is obviously very passionate about her craft, and through Access Your Inner Power she demonstrates how it is possible to awaken the wisdom all of our bodies hold.


The Day That Changed My Life – For the Rest of My Life by Rita Dearion

four stars

18145146With little idea of what the future held for her, Rita Dearion led an average life: she was committed to her career, a sales manager at PepsiCo; she was a mother to two teenage daughters; and she was a part-time cheerleading coach.  A confident, attractive woman, everything was going great for Rita – until one fateful night at a school dance where Rita was playing the role of chaperone.  After the dance was over, she stepped outside and saw a fight between two students.  Immediately, she stepped in to help, but in the process of breaking up the fight, Rita was pushed to the ground and her wrist was damaged.  For a full year after the fight, Rita lived with an immobile wrist before deciding to go in for corrective surgery.  Little did she know, but that decision would change Rita’s life completely.  Two days after surgery, Rita had a severe respiratory failure, which doctors attributed to either the medication or the surgery at the time, but was later explained by the asthma medication she was taking.  Years later, her life continued to be affected by the original surgery.  Steroid treatments led to bone loss, which led to more surgeries.  Through it all, though, Rita kept her head held high, finding strength in her family and in her unshakable faith in God.

Dearion’s memoir inspires readers on several levels.  First, there is the story of a woman who has carved out a niche for herself in a world that is dominated by men.  Then, there is the story of a hospital patient whose insatiable curiosity leads her to find her own answers, her confused mind seeking to solve her own mysterious illness.  And, finally, there is the story of a devoted Christian whose commitment to God allows her to keep faith in even the most dire scenarios, proving that positivity is a form of medicine in itself.  Though society places great prestige with doctors and medical professionals, there is still – as Rita discovers during the course of her saga – a great deal that is not known about the world we live in.  Rita’s tale shows that standing strong in the face of uncertainty is the key to living a powerful and successful life.


Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt by Kathleen B. Jones


By weaving together the life accomplishments and essence of the famed political thinker Hannah Arendt with details of her own journey and growth as a highly educated woman, Kathleen B. Jones has constructed an engaging account that functions as both memoir, biography, and autobiography. Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt breaks form and combines all of the best elements of personal and narrative non-fiction by bringing the reader information that not only elicits thought, but also creates understanding. With quotes from Hannah Arendt littered throughout, the main subject chronicled in this narrative is able to speak to readers through her own words, as Jones offers other conclusions based off of the life Hannah lived. This is by no means a simple book, as Jones tackles a great amount of information within these pages. Ideas about all sorts of topics ranging from love, family, education, female empowerment, and even war are presented through the lens of both the author herself, and through the opinions and thoughts of Hannah Arendt.

Although she is a highly esteemed individual, especially in academic circles, it is highly likely that the average person has no idea who Hannah Arendt was, what she accomplished, or what she believed. By quickly googling her name, there is a trove of information about her to be found, including the fact that there is an award called the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought that is named after her. Even though there are countless of details about this amazing woman that are easily accessible to anyone, nothing compares to the insight given to her life that comes from the pages of Diving for Pearls. Jones has taken Hannah’s most complicated thoughts and theories about politics and life itself and made them understandable for anyone who reads her book. Through the personal way she depicts Hannah and because of the way Hannah has influenced her own life, Diving for Pearls succeeds in both form and function, offering up a truly inspiring story of how two women’s lives have intertwined.


The King of Casinos: Wille Martello and the El Rey Club

51vt4MG9rTL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Every so often, readers come across stories and characters that are so unlikely as to be unbelievable.  This is one of those stories – but, remarkably, it’s all true.  Andy Martello was visiting Las Vegas with his wife when they decided to stop in at a dusty museum off the main drag.  Martello’s wife pointed out a faded black-and-white photograph that bore the couple’s same last name: it was the author’s first acquaintance with the El Rey Club, a notorious Nevadan gambling and entertainment destination that got its start in the 1940s.  Run by Willie Martello, this was a place where celebrities came to get away.  In fact, the El Rey Club was so successful in diverting money away from the Las Vegas joints that it began to attract untoward attention.  The club’s association with the Mafia led to Martello’s muddy reputation, dragging his story down into the depths of American history until one author had the happenstance to drudge it back up.

Let’s face it: gambling is a gray area.  There are those who are strictly in favor of it, and those who wouldn’t step foot in front of a slot machine.  Mostly it’s because of a morality we paint over the act of gambling – it’s wasteful, sinful, illegitimate.  Or, it’s entertaining, fun, and relaxing.  Similarly, Martello’s story is part heroic and part dubious.  Through sheer willpower, this man erected a business from the ground up and forever changed the face of the gambling industry; there’s no denying how much thought and sweat went into the El Rey Club.  Yet at the same time, the Club had somewhat shadowy underpinnings: rigged slot machines, multiple run-ins with the law, and a hotspot for Mafia activity.  What Andy Martello has managed to piece together – in as seemingly a miraculous way as the King of Casinos himself – is a thoughtful, well-researched biography of a remarkable businessman out of the American past.


Born Black in the U.S.A. by John H. Jordan

An exploration of the history of what African Americans have endured since the United States were formed, Born Black in the U.S.A., written by John H. Jordan is an account that covers the highs and lows of the changing times for African Americans in our country. The book dissects what life was like for slaves on plantations in the south, and then moves on to other topics like the sea of change that was brought on by the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, followed by reconstruction, the fourteenth amendment, the civil rights movement, and the election of the first African American President, Barack Obama. There is a plethora of information contained within this book’s pages that is bound to inform any reader who comes across it. By writing about the time periods, events, movements, and struggles that African Americans faced, as well as including in depth information about those individuals who directly affected the lives of all African Americans in a big way, Jordan has constructed a meaningful account that can both entertain and educate its readers.

A great companion piece to Jordan’s Black Americans 17th Century to 21st Century: Black Struggles and Successes, as well as a fully functioning standalone book, Born Black in the U.S.A. tackles a lot of information and explains pretty much everything you could ever want to know about African American history. By focusing more on the events and time periods that affected how African Americans have existed within our country, Jordan uses a wider approach that works well to give an overall idea of how black people in the United States have been treated throughout time. The only recommendation we have to improve this book is a more organized structure of the different topics covered, as they do seem somewhat randomly placed throughout the narrative. Nevertheless, Born Black in the U.S.A. is a well put together volume that speaks on the behalf of all African Americans.


Black Americans 17th Century to 21st Century: Black Struggles and Successes by John H. Jordan

A collection of hundreds of miniature biographies about the African Americans who helped shape the United States of America, Black Americans 17th Century to 21st Century: Black Struggles and Successes by John H. Jordan recounts the triumphs and tragedies of those who endured hardships and those who overcame the obstacles they faced as America changed from century to century. Beginning with a few opening pieces including ‘Black American’s History,’ ‘Obama’s Early Years,’ ‘Illinois and Black Americans,’ and ‘The Great Migration,’ which set the scene and tone of the material to follow, the people whose lives are explored within this book are grouped together by time periods, achievements, movements, and other categories. Similar pieces about other topics like ‘Racism in the United States of America’ and ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ are peppered throughout the biographies. Those who lived during slavery, the civil rights movement, and other criteria are given biographies. Many of the individuals are well known, such as Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., while others like Arthur Wergs Mitchell, the first Black-American elected to U.S. Congress as a Democrat, and Mary Eliza Mahoney, first Black-American to work as a professionally trained nurse, may not be as familiar to readers. Regardless, all of those profiled have lived lives of note.

Coming in at over six hundred pages, Jordan has amassed a great amount of knowledge to share about the lives of Black Americans. When reading this book, it is obvious all of the research that he has done on the countless number of lives that are chronicled within the pages he has put together. The articles intertwined with the accounts of people’s lives are a nice touch that help readers remember the history that these people lived through. The only thing missing is an alphabetical index that could assist readers in finding that certain person they are looking for even more quickly. This would be a great book for teachers to take advantage of when teaching about African American History Month.


I Was a Teenage Father by Rashan Cole

teenageThe dos and don’ts of parenting are chronicled in Rashan Cole’s raw memoir, I Was A Teenager Father: Parenting from the Perspective of an African American, Single Parent Father. The author recalls the events leading up to the birth of his daughter and how life in Baltimore prepared him to handle the unexpected. Sixteen chapters are served up for young parents to help assist in raising a child during the digital age. Cole makes it clear that he is not an expert, but offers advice in his own unique style.

One may be pleased with Cole’s assessment of teenage pregnancy if one is able to make it all the way through I Was A Teenager Father. The conversational tone allows Cole to let his personality shine through, but not everybody will be pleased with his delivery. And he understands that. In fact, he mentions in several times. Unfortunately, the in-your-face style often distracts from the overall purpose and several references should have been cut all together, as one may walk away from I Was A Teenager Father with a little too much information about the author. The author delivers plenty of laughs in I Was A Teenager Father, but many come across as being sophomoric and unnecessary. However, in the end, Cole’s story is one that should be heard, as his old-school sensibilities will undoubtedly appeal to parents that merely want the best for their children.


Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII by Marie Castro


Marie Castro was born and raised on the island of Saipan, part of a collection of islands known as the Mariana Islands.  Life on Saipan was governed by an individual’s dedication to family, farm, and God.  Marie recounts many of the games and activities her family enjoyed together when she was a young girl; without electricity – much less cable television or the Internet – family members often sat together on the back porch, enjoying the touch of a cool breeze on moonlit nights.  With similar clarity, Marie describes the various foods her mother prepared for the family, all composed of ingredients native to the island.  Then, everything changed during the Japanese occupation of Saipan.  As the Japanese Empire spread its tyrannical roots, Marie’s life became a living hell.  At school, children were harshly punished for even the most minor infraction of the school behavioral code.  Punishment was so callous, in fact, that a classmate in the second grade was beaten to death by a teacher.  At home, families were forbidden to speak any language other than Japanese, which, for Marie, meant that she was unable to express to her parents how hopeless she felt under Japanese governance.  Soon, Saipan would become a major battleground during WWII, with American troops arriving to liberate the island and rescue Marie’s family from hiding.  But for the people of Saipan, rescue could not come quickly enough.

Without a Penny in My Pocket grabs hold of the reader’s heartstrings, providing a constant hand-off between fond memories and living nightmares from Marie’s past.  Readers will be especially struck by the strength of this story’s narrative, which is bolstered by black-and-white photographs throughout and maps of the island where relevant.  This heartbreaking memoir also serves as a commentary on the spread and dissolution of culture, sometimes for the better, but often to the detriment of one group of people or the other.  As we continue to barrel through the twenty-first century, this discussion becomes ever more important.  For anyone interested in war history or well-told historical memoirs, Without a Penny in My Pocket comes highly recommended.


Surviving the Shadowman by Lesley Greyling

Surviving the Shadowman is a memoir of Greyling’s horrific physical and sexual assault in South Africa. While experiencing trouble with the company’s bakkie (or truck) as she was driving en route to one of her job assignments, Greyling was unexpectedly nabbed and dragged into a dense bush and was brutally raped. Stabbed several times, Greyling was left there to die until workers located and transported her to a local hospital just in the nick of time. Greyling takes readers from her gruesome journey and hospital and clinical experiences to her remarkable yet ongoing physical and emotional recovery.

Greyling’s debut account is nothing less than candid. Undoubtedly, many aspects of her story are difficult to read. To ease the tension regarding a plethora of traumatic scenes, Greyling deftly alternates between her surgeries and counseling sessions with reflections on her past life. Although those reflections helped her identify with the old and a new Lesley, Greyling came to terms with the fact that if she wanted to survive, she needed to learn to love herself. Aptly put, Greyling closes with these words:  “I have helped rape survivors deal with trauma, have had students I have taught come to me privately and tell me their own stories, or disclose their HIV status to me, and I am grateful to have been there for them, to be the one person they could turn to. It has helped me heal. And I am STILL healing.” While Greyling”s story is undeniably an intense read, it is also extremely encouraging for those who understand her pain. Indeed, her narrative is a work of healing for others.


Catawampus by Stuart Burkhalter

First they had to graduate from college, find jobs, and get settled into the real world. Next, they had to wait until after Stuart finished law school and took the bar exam. Then – and only then – they’d be ready…or would they? For years, Stuart and Julie Burkhalter postponed starting a family until the timing was right, but when the time was finally right, something else went wrong – no matter how hard the couple tried, they simply could not get pregnant. From the bedroom, to the pharmacy, to the doctor’s office, and beyond, they pursued every possible option that they could think of…and, when those things didn’t work out, they decided to pursue more. Catawampus by Stuart Burkhalter chronicles the couple’s journey along the “fertility trail” and recounts all the roadblocks, detours, and turning points they encountered along the way. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous, and always heartfelt and sincere, it thoroughly explores the landmarks on the fertility trail, including drug therapy, surgery, implants, and homeopathic remedies, and does so from the frequently unheard of voice in this ordeal – the voice of the male.

Catawampus is a must-read for anyone looking to better understand the fertility process from both a procedural and personal standpoint. As much a memoir as it is a reference source, it describes what Stuart and Julie experienced physically, emotionally, and financially, providing potential parents with a reliable roadmap of what they can expect should they, like the Burkhalters, choose to trek along this trying trail. But Catawampus isn’t just for couples who are trying to conceive – it’s also for the friends and family members who want to support them on their journey, as well as for healthcare professionals who want to fully appreciate and address their patients’ needs beyond what’s listed on any medical record or chart. Too often we forget that there’s a man beside the woman on the doctor’s table, and Catawampus reminds us that, indeed, there is – and, he isn’t just along for the ride. This is his journey, too.


Marriage by Design by Eric A. Disney

This nonfiction work is a guide by Disney containing methods, ideologies, and lines of thought that can be utilized in a marriage in order to preserve its happiness, effectiveness, and ability to last “’til death.”  The work contains chapters such as “The Cornerstone of a Healthy Marriage – Selfishness versus Selflessness” or even “Money and Marriage” in order to address the various aspects that may arise as a result of a life spent together.  Disney brings together the ideas of the Bible, of human morality, and especially love – all in order to determine the best way to handle marital issues.  In the beginning, Disney claims that this book may help marriages that are struggling, marriages that are just beginning, or even those who simply wish to ensure and keep intact the health of their current relationship.  Throughout the book, Disney shares his experiences and thoughts, and teaches his methods to ensure that his initial claim remains true.

Marriage by Design by Eric A. Disney is not just a “helpful” book about marriage, but one that can truly save a relationship altogether.  Disney promises readers that this book will assist with relationships, and it is indeed hard to read this book without analyzing one’s own relationship, all while making notes on how it can be improved.  Disney also suggests that the Bible be kept handy while reading this book, so that passages can be compared to his suggestions and references.  The tie-in of this age-old, trusty “handbook” makes it even easier for readers to see how the troubles of marriage can be aided with even the oldest of techniques and morals.  Unique approaches such as these are found throughout the book, and are what makes the book so effective.  This work is one that makes readers take a deep look inside themselves in order to fix their roles within their marriage.  As a book that aims for helping others with marriages, Disney is altogether successful in reaching his goals and is inspiring to readers all around.  The only complaint about this book is that it wasn’t written any sooner.


Shaken Not Stirred: A Chemo Cocktail by Joules Evans


Fewer sentences can deliver such horror as this one: “You have cancer.”  After waking up one morning and feeling a lump on her chest, Joules Evans makes an appointment for a mammogram (at forty-two, it was her first – she strongly advises all women to make them part of your annual routine now!).  What follows is Joules’ story of what happens when cancer enters a person’s life – in an instant, everything is turned on its head.  As prevalent as cancer is in today’s world, we live our lives believing that it won’t ever happen to us.  And then your diagnosis comes, and it just doesn’t make sense.  Perhaps you had assumed that you would always be there to provide for your children, but cancer has a way of reminding us how fleeting life can be.  In the face of such a terrifying foe, many would be tempted to turn tail and hide, or cower in the closet until the end comes for them.  But Joules’ responses was something else entirely: she chose to greet cancer with humor and strength, cracking jokes and keeping her family positive throughout all the surgery and chemotherapy.  In the end, Shaken Not Stirred proves that there’s no cure like optimism.

This is a book you’ll want to buy in bulk.  Maybe you know someone who is currently battling cancer.  Or, maybe you’re facing down the enemy yourself.  Shaken Not Stirred shows how a family is affected by cancer, with quotes and thoughts from Joules’ friends and family members.  The only way to win is if you have allies fighting alongside you; this isn’t a war you can win alone.  Despite the subject material – or, more likely, in spite of – this book is laugh-out-loud funny.  Joules talks about her many chemotherapy treatments, and how it’s no coincidence that superheroes also have a tendency to drink radioactive cocktails.  Cancer doesn’t change who you are – it only makes you stronger.


Last Summer with Oscar: An Adventurous True Story of Love and Courage by Jan Schwartz, Ph.D.

51AQiqOhceL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jan and her husband, owners of a loving nine-year-old Golden Retriever named Oscar, were delivered a terrible shock one day when they learned that their loyal dog had been diagnosed with cancer.  Shortly thereafter, Oscar’s illness made itself apparent, both in changes to his daily behaviors – lack of appetite and energy – and physical changes to his body.  His owners were asked if they would like to go ahead with surgery or chemotherapy, but they elected instead to enjoy Oscar’s last days as a family by just helping him to feel as loved as they could.  Then, on a walk through the woods, Oscar stopped to snack on some young Slippery Elm seedlings; it soon became her favorite treat.  Not only that, but the plants seemed to be having a healing effect on Oscar’s cancer!  This discovery led Jan to do some research of her own, delving into the Slippery Elm’s biology and history and leading her in the direction of other natural cancer cures.  Over the course of a year, Oscar’s owners showered him with love and affection and searched for any medicine that might ease the dog’s pain.  The Golden Retriever’s hopeful and indomitable spirit helped inspire friends and neighbors as well, encouraging many of them to help find a cure for Oscar’s cancer.  Sadly, Oscar passed on just one short year after his diagnosis, but Oscar’s story remains as a testament to his positive response in the face of cancer.

Last Summer with Oscar is both insightful and warmly written, and Schwartz’s text radiates love for her dog.  The author was inspired to write Last Summer with Oscar because she wanted to share what she had learned from Oscar, including the possibility of using natural remedies, like Slippery Elm, to treat cancer.  Today, cancer is the cause of death for about 1 in 4 dogs, which means that countless canine lives are being cut short each year.  For anyone whose pet is currently sick, or who is still coping with the recent loss of the family pet, Last Summer with Oscar offers comfort, wisdom, and hope in the tradition of books like Marley & Me and Dewey the Library Cat.


Dude, a Child? WTF? by Rex Donovan

Fatherhood isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, yet, as Donovan argues in his new parenting primer for young dads, it’s rarely given as much thought as it deserves.  With anecdotal humor, Donovan guides readers into the future, where he describes for them the sort of financial and personal sacrifices that parents are required to make for their children: less sleep, less free time, less money.  Not to mention the increasingly exorbitant amounts of money that American families now shell out for their children’s college educations.  The author also points to numerous other complications that can arise from having children, like elevated levels of marital stress and the painful task of caring for and helping children through a divorce.  Donovan argues that times have changed, and thus parenting styles need to change, too.  For one thing, statisticians predict an increase in the frequency of live-at-home offspring in the next few decades, which is definitely food for thought if you’re considering parenthood.  While Dude, a Child? WTF? doesn’t necessarily shed new light on the subject, Donovan’s book is certainly worth a look for prospective parents, and serves as a reminder that having children requires not only love, but also patience and planning.

Donovan wrote this book in the style of a conversation among friends, which makes his advice and authorial voice that much more personal.  Though it may seem like he is trying to scare young men away from parenthood, Donovan himself is the proud father of two girls and recognizes the many joys – and, of course, sacrifices – that come from having children.  Quite unbiasedly, Dude, a Child? WTF?examines both the pros and cons of fatherhood, most of which are well known but are rarely – as Donovan believes – weighed carefully enough until it’s too late.  Though this book is written with a male audience in mind, young couples may also find it useful for starting an honest and fair-minded discussion about expanding the family.


From Barefoot to Stilettos, It’s Not for Sissies by Marie Pizano

from_barefoot_to_stilettos_it_not_for_sissies_by_marie_pizano_1452586667Marie has lived her life with one important rule: never take “no” for an answer. Growing up in a low-income household, she was exposed to many of the harsh realities of life, even once witnessing a friend carve her initials into another girl’s forehead as punishment for a gang-related dispute. But rather than resign herself to a less-than-satisfying life, Marie chose to step up and show the world that she was headed somewhere big. After becoming involved with fitness and aerobics in high school, she was asked to interview with an acting and modeling agency out West – this was going to be her ticket to a better life. And then, tragedy struck. Marie and her boyfriend were in a motorcycle accident and, after a disfiguring leg surgery, Marie was passed over for work at the modeling agency. So Marie decided to work her way up in the business field, eventually heading to work for her future husband. The couple had a rocky start (Marie could barely stand the man when they first met), but soon fell in love. Soon after, Marie’s life began to change; she felt herself being relegated to the sidelines as a trophy wife, and her husband gradually became more and more suspicious about her spending habits, though they had plenty of money. After acknowledging how unhappy Marie’s marriage was making her, she remembered her rule – don’t accept “no” – and sought out to seek her “yes.”

From Barefoot to Stilettos is both entertaining and well written, and offers an intriguing look at social issues like socioeconomic status, public image, and gender roles. For years, Marie was held back by a husband who wanted her to stay at home when she knew she’d truly be happy in the workplace. Not to mention that she also faced opposition from her husband’s acid-tongued mother, his friends – and especially their gossipy wives – and coworkers. While this memoir will certainly appeal to women with similar experiences, it’s also of special interest to anyone looking for an up-close examination of modern society’s issues and shortcomings.


My Life with AIDS: Tragedy to Triumph by Catherine Wyatt-Morley


Catherine had a great life: a loving husband, two handsome young sons, a job, a roof over her family’s head.  Then, one day after a scheduled surgical procedure – and an unauthorized blood test – Catherine found out she was HIV positive.  Having never strayed from her marriage, she was perplexed as to how she could possibly have contracted the disease, but after encouraging her husband to get tested, the couple discovered that he was HIV positive too.  Catherine’s husband closed off from his family, finding comfort at the bottom of a bottle instead, and Catherine faced discrimination from coworkers, religious community members, and even family.  She lost her job for the simple fact that she had contracted a sexually transmitted illness, so strong was (and remains today) the stigma surrounding HIV.  Catherine and her husband were also asked to find a different church, the couple’s HIV statuses essentially turning them into pariahs.  Yet, despite all of this tremendous oppression, Catherine chose to learn as much about her disease as she could, so that she could educate her sons and other members of her community.  Eventually, she garnered international attention after being invited to speak in Thailand regarding the country’s public health policies.  Catherine’s story shows that even life’s largest misfortunes can be used as opportunities for personal growth and betterment.

My Life with AIDS delineates how utterly upturned a person’s life becomes when they contract a disease like HIV.  Thankfully, news of having HIV isn’t synonymous with news of one’s impending death anymore, but managing the disease still requires a massive amount of medical care, money, and moxie.  And, beyond that, there are severe psychological implications, with depression and suicidal thoughts occurring quite commonly.  Through personal diary-like passages, Catherine communicates these thoughts, telling readers how she felt about her disease on certain days or at certain moments.  My Life with AIDS is also shocking in that it illustrates how deeply rooted cultural misconceptions are about illnesses like HIV.  When the disease first spread to Europe and North America it was largely ignored because people assumed it could only be contracted through gay sex.  Those inaccuracies led many people to comfortably continue practicing unsafe sex for years to come, until the social stigma surrounding HIV began to wear thin.  Though times may have changed, Catherine’s work just as important today.  Thanks to her efforts spreading knowledge and awareness, numerous lives are being saved each and every day.


Glenville Grown by A. John Ferenz


This review is best delivered in a casual tone, to reflect that it’s as sincere as it is honest. When you start reading Glenville Grown by A. John Ferenz, it seems to be nothing more than a collection of randomly recalled, unremarkable moments from a young man’s life that were just blurted out with no rhyme or reason. However, reading on, you will find that Glenville Grown is not a collection of randomly recalled unremarkable moments from a man’s youth that were just scattered across the page. It’s quite the opposite, really. With a distinctly nostalgic, somewhat ‘Stand By Me’ feel, this book exudes something best described as irresistible. You get invested in this little kid’s life, and you feel like, maybe in another time and place, you guys could have been friends – and you start really relating to him, even though some of the things you’ve experienced in your life are vastly different from what he’s experienced in his.

As you follow John around Glenville, you also discover something else…the way that this book reads totally makes sense. John isn’t telling the story of his life as it happened – he’s telling it the way he remembers it. And, really, isn’t that what we all do? When we reflect upon our pasts, we don’t share memories in chronological order. That’s not how our minds work. We remember things in a scattered mess, where events from one day, year, or decade are called to mind alongside those from another, sometimes linked together by a simple shared element that means more to us than to anyone else in the world. That’s what John’s doing in this book. He’s remembering things that are personal – and he’s doing so like a person. With that in mind, Glenville Grown is certainly the kind of book that can be recommended to readers.


Creative Grieving: A Hip Chick’s Path From Loss to Hope by Elizabeth Berrien

18179596Berrien’s story starts off with a drop kick right to the heart: after breathlessly awaiting the birth of her first child – a son named Tookie – her little boy arrived stillborn.  There was nothing the doctor could do to save him.  In time, Elizabeth and her husband Brian were ready to try for another child, but first they had to face what seemed an insurmountable grief over Tookie’s loss.  Joyously, Elizabeth was pregnant again several months later – but the worst was not yet behind her.  Brian worked for the U.S. military, and his last tour abroad – a six-month stint in Afghanistan – loomed darkly over the young couple’s heads.  While overseas, Brian would Skype with Elizabeth every day – until one day he didn’t.  Just like that, Elizabeth had not only a child, but a loving husband taken from her in what seemed a massively unfair gesture by Fate.  Here, in Creative Grieving, Berrien recounts her depression in the wake of a double loss and her journey toward rediscovering bliss.

You might assume from the summary that Creative Grieving is a hard or troubling read, but, in reality, it’s quite the opposite.  Berrien describes periods of tremendous sadness and hopelessness following the loss of her child and husband, but she also includes moments shared with her daughter Ella, and other members of her loving and supportive family.  Elizabeth had such trouble sleeping that, for a while after Brian’s death, one of her sisters always slept by her side, to comfort her should she awaken in terror during the night;  I can’t imagine a more touching image of love between sisters.  The overall message of Creative Grieving is that there isn’t one specific way to grieve.  There’s no paint-by-numbers solution to feeling like yourself again.  While Berrien’s book offers advice to anyone experiencing grief or depression, she specifies that people need to listen to their own bodies and make their own decisions in dealing with their emotions; don’t let anyone bully you into acting a certain way: only you know how you are feeling today.  A relatable read, this will undoubtedly serve as a great resource for a grieving friend or family member.


Mind What Matters: A Pep Talk for Humanity by John Viscount

Mind What Matters is, as Viscount puts it, “the next stage” on his quest for peace and happiness. Drawing from his experiences and the historical accounts of others, Viscount’s spiritual-guideline narrative addresses how peace and happiness can be achieved through mindfulness. Viscount covers common but pertinent human concepts that have been hot topic conundrums since the beginning of recorded human history. Topics range from simple to complex, such as hope, joy, love, laughter, and kindness, to death, intolerance, struggle, and war. In a simplified format, attaining peace and happiness is a learned practice — a mind-over-matter situation — of not allowing external circumstances to dictate one’s choices. Viscount closes each chapter with upbeat exhortations to practice and thought provoking quotes on which to ruminate.

Creator of the award-winning short film for peace entitled Admissions, Viscount has captured his spiritual experiences and musings and placed them in written form to offer help and encouragement to others. His narrative is very engaging and non-threatening. A combination of first, second, and third voices, the encounters, whether personal or otherwise, that he shares about the human journey, garner a positive reader response, and segue seamlessly to his light but nonetheless challenging exhortations that can be very life changing if taken to heart. For example, on the issue of struggling, he offers this piece of advice:  “Today, take a look at the headaches and mindaches in your life and listen to what they are telling you. Better yet, listen to what you are telling you.” While Viscount presents a plethora of excellent and extremely helpful food for thought, religious critics may find his viewpoint on heaven “as a state of mind” leaning more toward some strange New Age ethereal thinking. Clearly, Viscount’s narrative requires readers to keep an open mind. Yet his portrayals of the human journey are purely realistic and down to earth. Very insightful and thought provoking, Mind What Matters truly offers answers in the quest for peace and happiness.


Crossing the Date Line: Adventures of a Traveling Geologist by John Solo

John Sollo’s Crossing the Date Line: Adventures of a Traveling Geologist was a surprising and entertaining read. John recounts his travels in various countries, including Venezuela, New Zealand, Alaska, China, Papua New Guinea, as well as ten others. Throughout the work, readers follow John through his experiences, the people he has met, and the unbelievable situations that he found himself in (and worked his way out of). With chapters with titles such as ‘It All Tasted Like Chicken,’ ‘The Monsoon Rain,’ and especially ‘Mama Grizzly,’ it is easy to see where John’s travels have taken him and will take readers throughout his stories. Some of the narrative accounts are touching, some are terrifying, but all of these tales will make readers wish they were there with him for his unforgettable experiences.

This book captures the reader’s attention immediately, before the book even really begins, as John attempts to catch a flight while stuck in holiday traffic, frustrated to the point where he almost leaves his ride to walk to the airport. From then on, the action and entertainment doesn’t stop. The pictures that accompany the stories throughout the work provide even further insight into the voyages, and provide faces to the names to those he knew and those he met. Crossing the Date Line is one of those can’t-put-down reads, and one that will stick with the reader as they go about their daily lives. With stories that most wouldn’t be able to achieve even if they were given three separate lifetimes, John Sollo provides readers the insight into how we all wish we could live, by living his own singular life in such a fantastic fashion.


No Blood In the Turnip: Memoirs of a Codependent by Maple Sudds

Taking its name from the well-known adage (you can’t get blood from a turnip), No Blood In the Turnip tells the remarkable story of Maple Sudds as she progresses through the various stages of life, from childhood to young adulthood and finally to motherhood.  Throughout the years, Maple is confronted by a variety of obstacles that begin to alter the way she behaves around her family – in particular her father, and, later, her husband.  Maple’s father is absent during the majority of her childhood days, and yet she needs him in order to be provided with basic necessities like food, clean water, and a roof over her head.  Without even realizing it, her unresolved issues with her own father lead Maple to pursue a marriage with a similarly inhibited husband.  Codependent (if you’re unfamiliar with the word) is the term given to “one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.  This painful fallacy leads many people into unproductive – and even destructive – marriages, by preying on optimism and making a person believe that he or she can really change their spouse’s behavior, that they are helping them become better people.  Truthfully, though, it’s only another form of enabling.  After realizing her mistake, Maple seeks to turn things around in order to help her two sons avoid making the same mistakes with their own families later on.

No Blood In the Turnip is a smart mix of memoir and social sciences textbook; readers get an excellent blend of both research and story.  Throughout her book, Maple muses upon the self-defeating aspects of codependency, and how it tends to propagate problems in future families by rewarding (or at least letting go unpunished) these destructive behaviors.  She posits that by improving the family dynamic today, we can help ensure a stable family structure further down the line, a theory that makes great sense.  Maple’s story shows how even unconscious learned behaviors can actively impinge upon your happiness, and, hopefully, will inspire readers to take a closer look at their own lives and gather the courage to make a change.


Naked Angels by Vincent Arthurs

Vincent Arthurs’ memoir Naked Angels is a poignant and honest description of what it is like to lose half of yourself– half of your soul, half of your will to live, half of your life, half of your twinship. When Vince’s twin brother Victor commits suicide, Vince is left floating in a sea of loneliness, confusion, and utter isolation. The very foundation of everything that he has spent his life believing and loving, is suddenly gone. Vince’s journey through recovery and acceptance is one that everyone can relate to in some way, shape, or form. While his individual struggle with the loss of a twin is special to him alone, it can most certainly be likened to the loss of a beloved partner or parent. It is impossible to go through life without loss and Vince’s story provides the hope that there can be life and happiness beyond that loss, no matter how extreme.

Vince’s journey is both devastating and motivating. His pain is so deep and so irreversible that it is difficult not to be moved by his admissions. While his journey is not easy, it is unavoidable and acts as an opportunity for personal growth. It becomes a chance for Vince to achieve his own independence and recognize a life where he is truly his own person. Naked Angels is hopefully just one of the first steps in Vincent Arthurs’ recovery and acceptance of his brother’s death. Hopefully it will also be an opportunity for Vince to bring more light and research to the causes and treatment for mental illness, especially as they pertain to twinship.


Letting Go Into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary After Abuse by Gwendolyn M. Plano

First Prize Winner – The 2014 Red City Review Book Awards – Memoir/Non-Fiction

lettinggo“When we first fall in love with our partner, we also fall in love with a vision of happiness.  That vision is the lens through which we judge ourselves.  It is integrally linked to our sense of self.  To expose our partner is to expose our perceived failure.  For that reason, victims will pretend that all is well until they cannot pretend any longer.”

Gwen grew up as the oldest of nine children, traveling with her family around the American Midwest and briefly taking root wherever her father could find work.  At college, she met her first husband, Bruce, though a workplace incident left Bruce’s mind shattered and broken soon after the birth of their son, Matt.  After her divorce from Bruce, Gwen was introduced to Ron, a handsome, well-travelled man who was similarly grieving the loss of his recent girlfriend.  Drawn together by pain, Gwen and Ron began dating and married after only six months together, despite vocal reservations from both their families – and that’s when Ron changed.  He became abusive, violent, unfeeling.  He threatened Gwen and hit their son.  When the family moved together to Japan, the domestic violence took a brief reprieve, but Ron was soon back to his old ways.  And, as their family grew, the violence only grew with it.  Eventually (after twenty-five years of marriage), Gwen had had enough.  She drew strength over the years from close relationships with her children and various religious communities, and was no longer paralyzed by fear of what Ron might do when she told him she wanted to end their marriage.  Though Gwen didn’t fully expect to find love and happiness again (she had plenty of both from family already), she remarried a third time, and is in a deeply loving marriage today.

Letting Go Into Perfect Love is one woman’s emotive account of domestic violence, but it’s also so much more than that.  It’s the story of a young mother learning to respect and value herself, a student of religion finding the simple beauty in life around her, a writer searching for the proper words with which to tell her tale.  Though it is seldom talked about, domestic violence is a serious issue facing women and families all around the world.  While the writing here is beautiful, Letting Go also serves to start that vital conversation: now that we can no longer choose to ignore abuse, what do we do about it?  Hopefully, it will prompt readers to reflection, and then to action.  Gwen’s story has a happy ending, but many other women’s do not.  This isn’t the first time our reviewers have read an account of domestic violence, and, frankly, it breaks our hearts.  Gwen needed to tell her story – and you need to read it.


Tales of a Tenacious Tenor by Robert P. Mitchell

With the sweeping scale of an epic and the intimacy of a memoir, Robert P. Mitchell’s autobiographical novel, Tales of a Tenacious Tenor, gifts us the true story of the author’s ardent pursuit of a career singing opera. Spanning several decades, Tales guides us through Bob’s journey from the moment he comes to terms with his musical interest as an adolescent in rural Pennsylvania, across years of formal education and personal maturation, and deep into his induction into the glitz of the New York City region’s operatic scene. Along the way, Bob experiences intense pushback from family, teachers, fate, and even his own breath – but also staggering personal successes and the power of music to elate and unite.

The alliteration of Tales’ title foretells the charisma of Mitchell’s storytelling; Bob’s first-person narration throws us immediately into the action – and into his head. His voice is casual enough to engage the reader directly, and never fails to sound sincere. We are accompanied on our journey through the years by interjected internal thought, wryly wrought European accents, and imagined dialogue with Bob’s father, all of which lends a unique voice to the writing. Cultural references and historic events give the tales a sense of time and flavor, and temporal leaps that peep into the future tinge the story with a charming melancholy, nostalgia, and sentimentality. Sometimes, these jumps are disorienting, and it can be difficult to track the multitude of referenced personages – agents, friends, singers, teachers – who slide in and out of focus as the narrative progresses. Bob’s extensive reminiscing can also feel too garrulous, the frequent asides too miscalculated, and the innumerable anecdotes meaningful only to the speaker; an onslaught of detail ironically leaves a lack of information on Bob’s life outside of opera that creates gaps in our ability to appreciate our hero’s position within the greater fabric his life. This is redeemed by the romantic taste of the colorful world of opera, both on and behind the stage, that Tales offers us. It is a world, however, that might be befuddle readers not familiar with musical terminologies and histories, and may not always be sufficiently compelling for those who are not already aficionados. Fortunately, by the end of the memoir, the narrative shortcomings have done little to diminish the overall thrill of growing with Bob; we find ourselves breathless with the exhilaration of having experienced a real lifetime, and are left with a poignant meditation on fame, fortune, success, and artistry.


Soldiers of the Cold War by Stephen A. Corbett

Soldiers of the Cold War by Stephen A. Corbett explains the history of the Cold War and the stories of the soldiers that fought in this silent war. Many Americans do not understand the intricacies and the facts of what truly happened during that time. It was not really talked about. And just because it ended for us does not mean it ended for everybody else too. The book begins with him on a train from Yugoslavia to Italy to escape and fight the communist government. He has left everything he has known in Bulgaria in hopes that maybe he can make a difference in this world he has grown to hate.

Stephen A. Corbett has written about his experiences growing up in a world filled with total control and hate in vivid detail. He explains what it was really like for the people stuck in the middle of the Cold War. The Cold War that Americans experienced was very different than the Cold war that many Eastern European countries experienced. It was more brutal and miserable for them than it was for us. It also lasted longer. I learned more about the Cold War in this book than I ever did in school. I also got to see it in a different light. I was able to see it from the other side; see it from the point of view of the people who lived it. There are parts that can be difficult to read, but overall if you can get through those parts I think you will enjoy this book, especially if you are a history buff.


Running for My Life, Winning for CMT by Christine Wodke

$_35Christine Wodke, author of “Running for My Life, Winning for CMT,” has long dealt with a lack of public awareness for her disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), which is a neurological disorder whose victims slowly lose sensation and control of their legs, feet, and hands.  When Wodke first told her friends and family about her CMT – some of whom already had the disease themselves – most looked back at her blankly.  Some didn’t know what the disease was, or how it required people to adjust their daily routines around CMT’s often frustrating limitations.  And, sadly, some just didn’t seem to care.  Wodke remembers hearing one statement repeated over and over: “You look fine.”  This is a sentiment heard by the victims of similar “invisible diseases,” like lupus.  People assume that if you look alright on the outside, then you must be healthy.  But, with CMT that just isn’t the case.  Yet, rather than resigning herself to a life spent battling CMT, Wodke has become obsessed with raising public awareness for her own disease and other neurological disorders.  Wodke’s story carries great weight, because she has spent many years training for and competing in marathons and triathlons across the United States, the training made that much more difficult by the fatigue, soreness, and pain brought on by CMT.  “Running for My Life” takes readers on a course that has plenty of ups (like Wodke’s many medals, awards, and media mentions) and downs, including conflict with family, facing public scrutiny and antipathy from government organizations, and struggling to balance dating and her disease.  But, as with any race, readers will reach the finish line feeling reinvigorated and inspired.

This book couldn’t have come to me at a better time.  Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with social media knows about the ALS ice bucket challenge, a recent cyber-fundraiser to raise awareness for the neuromuscular disease.  And, unless you work in the medical profession or have a family member or friend affected by the disease, I’m guessing you hadn’t heard of ALS before a few weeks ago – I know I certainly hadn’t.  But after learning about it, how could you not want to help raise money for everyone affected by the disease?  Before, if a person with ALS had revealed their condition to a friend, they might expect complete bafflement.  Now, however, they can expect encouragement and general awareness of the disease and its adverse effects.  In a similar manner, Wodke’s book illuminates a challenge-filled world that many of us have never even had to think about.  By reading “Running for My Life,” we are helping to raise empathy for anyone who is affected by CMT or a similar condition.  And isn’t the act of reading a great deal more enticing than dumping water on your head?


The Toughest Guy in the Bar by Patrick & Frank Reed


Patrick Reed is a bouncer, and The Toughest Guy in the Bar is the true account of what it takes to be the guy who breaks up drunken fights for a living.  Starting out as a security guard, Pat was tapped for a job as a bouncer at the local bar and found that is was something he had a preternatural skill for.  After recruiting some friends to help keep things under control, the bar saw a dramatic decrease in fighting – not surprising, if your security force looks like they just stepped off the football field.  But when the bar comes under new management, Pat decides to find work elsewhere, his career path taking him to other bars – including a stint at a gay bar, and another that was a front for the mob – all the while acquiring a reputation among the locals as someone you don’t want to mess around with.  But, as a friend points out, when you’re known as someone who never loses a fight, people will result to more extreme measures instead.  Soon, Pat isn’t just fighting for his reputation – he’s fighting for his life.

Despite its brevity, Toughest Guy teems with heart and substance.  What starts off as the story of a normal guy with a unusual job quickly becomes a tale of Pat’s literal life and death situation, as he responds to personal threats and attempts to keep a low profile.  The narrative alternates between fast-paced fights, tense passages, and humorous interjections from Pat and his friends.  Time and time again, Pat proves that he really is the toughest guy in the bar. But he also shows readers that being tough doesn’t always mean escalating violence; sometimes it’s as simple as thinking with a clear head and providing problem customers with a few careful words.

Mother’s Six Marines by Frank A. Reed Jr.

Mother’s Six Marines, a memoir, by Frank A. Reed Jr. tells the story of Gladys M. Enders Reed’s five sons, and her husband, Frank A. Reed Sr. After a brief introduction to the set up of the book, and some background information on Gladys’ upbringing and kind personality, the reader is introduced to each of the six marines, as each of their lives, accomplishments, and hardships are described over the course of a few pages. The narrative explains which conflicts each marine served in, and how they moved on in life after their tours of duty were completed, getting married and raising families of their own. Of the five sons of Gladys and Frank Sr., only one, Ralph, stayed with the Marines and made a long and well-decorated career out of being in the service.  Between them, these six Marines served in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, offering up their bravery and talents to the United States of America.

Although this is a very short book, it is well put together, and organized in a reader-friendly fashion. The photographs at the back of the book add a nice touch to the short biographies of each of the men that are described in the earlier pages. While it is not really a memoir, and more of a collection of biographical vignettes, its form follows function to portray insight into who these men were. Because of the lack of exposition and little detail, this book would most likely be enjoyed by those who knew the family, but nevertheless, it serves as a nice legacy of six marines who served their country.


The Jukebox of Life by George Wallace-Barnhill

Renowned therapist George L. Wallace-Barnhill looks back on his greatest joys and inner demons in the memoir The Jukebox of Life. The story begins in post-World War II Pennsylvania as the author seeks the love his father and overcomes an embarrassing personality disorder. With new experiences comes a new perspective, and George finds his calling on the tracks of Altoona all the way to Penn State. However, once the sporting life concludes, the hurler must stop in mid-stride to confront the mental blocks holding him back from the ultimate prize: happiness.

The Jukebox of Life improves with each inspirational yet heartbreaking chapter. Barnhill’s conversational style makes for a quick read, although the language becomes fluffy throughout with a multitude of exclamation points. The punctuation ultimately lies in the author’s stories, and the happy-go-lucky tone could have been toned down with more focus on the grammar. Incidentally, the who’s and why’s of the middle sections end abruptly with Barnhill identifying individuals and quickly moving on. His marriages are only briefly noted, which doesn’t completely round out the narrative of a man struggling with the relationships dilemmas created by his parents. The memoir feels like it was written specifically for someone, with the final chapters addressing a broader audience. Overall, Barnhill’s story can (and will) provide support to individuals struggling to overcome the odds and help identify the sweet sounds of the jukebox of life.


The Hell That I’ve Made for Myself by Matthew Burke

The Hell That I’ve Made For Myself by Matthew Burke is an honest reflection on life as a bipolar drug addict. Whether you’re living with bipolar disorder or are battling a drug addiction, you’ll be able to relate to this story as it is very accurate of a typical person struggling with either problem.  From taking prescription medications to shopping sprees to feeling like you’re constantly being watched, Burke captures the essence of life for a person fighting their own personal demons. He tells the brutally honest story of his life and his struggle to overcome his addiction. After several attempts of rehabilitating himself, he finally beats the drug addiction after spending some time in a mental facility. His story gives hope to those who are currently trying to become ‘clean.’

Burke’s honesty allows readers to relate to his story. His struggle makes this story believable. The best part of this biography is that he illustrates how to combat your own personal demons. He does this by talking about his challenges and how difficult it was to get to where he is today. By being honest and letting others know that he kept relapsing, it gives addicts hope, that they too, will eventually overcome their addiction. While the story is an inspiration, there were quite a few grammatical errors throughout the read. Nevertheless, grammar aside, the story is a courageous step forward to help others battling mental illness or drug addiction. By sharing his perspective of drug addiction and bipolar disorder, Burke can help people overcome their demons one reader at a time.


Born Too Soon: The Emotional Journey of a Neo Mum by Allison Schleef 

bornBorn Too Soon: The Emotional Journey of a Neo Mum by Allison Schleef takes readers on ‘an intense emotional rollercoaster’ about her ‘premie’ baby, Aidan. This tear-jerker gives you the real, brutally honest truth about giving birth to a baby three months before your due date. Her helplessness in the early days and months of her child’s life is easily sympathized with. Watching your newborn receive countless injections, blood transfusions and live in an incubator is extremely difficult for any mother, especially one who has been cautious throughout her entire pregnancy. Throughout her stay at the hospital, Schleef became quite ill. From blood clots to thrush to mastitis and more, she began visiting doctors on an almost weekly basis shortly after delivering Aidan. After three months of care, at the hospital, Aidan was finally brought home. However, Schleef struggled to feel a sense of security as she no longer had the strong support system, the hospital equipment and she was constantly alone.

It’s extremely easy for the average reader, especially if you’re a mother or currently pregnant, to feel empathy for Schleef. Her straightforward and honest approach will likely leave you teary-eyed. The only downside to this book is that it rarely mentions her husband. There is a slight mention of him early on. However, I wonder how difficult the whole process was for him to be separated from his newborn and his wife while having to go to work and maintain the household alone. I would highly recommend this book for any parents currently watching their newborn fight for their life but also those expecting.


A Gift of Love by Linda Della Donna

In A Gift of Love, Linda Della Donna tells the story of her life and marriage with her soul mate Ed, and what their life was like before and after it all fell apart. Ed was diagnosed with cancer unexpectedly and within a year passed away. Donna narrates her story from all angles. The story starts out with Ed’s death and the pain and grief that she feels for the loss of her loved one. The story continues with outlining the beginning of their love story and how Ed and Linda met in New York in 1986.  It was a pure chance and perfect one of a kind moment. From the beginning of this meeting, you could just tell these two were meant to be. Donna then continues to tell “their” story from describing the love they shared, their daily life routines, Ed’s cancer fight, his ultimate death, and her sorrows after losing her one of a kind love.  Donna promised her husband that she would write a book in his memory because she wanted the world to know their love story and his fight with cancer.

Donna’s memoir is excellent because there is no attempt to hide the truth of the story; her emotions are conveyed across the book’s pages.  The title of each chapter is the name of an emotion and also starts with a quote relating to that emotion, which was a very nice touch. ‘A Gift of Love’ is a heartfelt story about true love and a widow’s underlying love to share her husband’s story. This would be a wonderful gift for a widow who is suffering heartbreak and needs guidance from a person who has been there. This memoir teaches a valuable lesson, when you lose a spouse, life does go on, and love does live forever.


Time In the Prop Blast by Emmet D. Edwards, Jr.

prop blastWhen Emmet Edwards was eighteen years old, he took a job at the Singer Sewing Center in Washington, D.C.  As a sewing machine repairman, it was Edwards’ job to take apart, clean, and reassemble any faulty or problematic units.  He was so efficient at doing this that his superiors promoted him to Assistant Manager less than a week after starting at the Sewing Center.  Part of his promotion was the use of a company car – which Edwards promptly crashed into a tree, thus ending his quick rise through the ranks.  But it turns out that Edwards had quite a few more ranks to climb, this time in the military.  In “Time In the Prop Blast,” we get just a glimpse of the enthusiasm, dedication, and panache that Edwards displays toward all things in life, including his dear wife Ruth.  A young man’s (admittedly ambitious) dream of setting foot on the moon propels him on a path toward higher and higher thrills and successes.  Soon, jumping out of a fast-moving plane becomes just another day at the office for Edwards – the true difficulty reveals itself to be strengthening and maintaining the relationship between husband and wife.

“Prop blast” is the term used to describe the brief, harsh gust of air that pummels into paratroopers as they exit the aircraft, and this book strikes the reader much in the same way.  Edwards’s account of his own life his surprisingly clear and unbiased, like a breath of fresh air.  There is little repainting of the past; rather, all of the author’s errors and shortcomings show through like cracks in a venerated home or church.  And really, that’s what makes “Time In the Prop Blast” so compelling.  Edwards’s purpose in writing down his memories is less about educating readers than it is about preserving his remarkable tale of growth and self-discovery.  What’s more, this autobiography stands to Edwards as a lengthy love letter to his wife, who sadly passed away some time ago.  Readers will surely be inspired by this book not only to work harder, but to love harder.  Because in the end, it is our relationships with our loved ones that make us who we are.


On Becoming a Dinosaur by Java Davis

‘On Becoming a Dinosaur’ by Java Davis, is considered as a bonus short memoir that is included in the back of Davis’ novel, ‘Depression Carpenter.’ Seeing as it comes in at only seven pages, it is more appropriately categorized as a personal essay than a memoir. It focuses singularly on Davis’ professional life as a woman in the workplace, and the adversity she had to face and overcome as a professional type setter. She takes pride in the fact that she is not just another female typist, or secretary, or administrative assistant, but instead she is considered to be an expert in her field of typesetting, working with machines to make letters and words come together. Shifting locales from New York City to Philadelphia, and then by the end of the piece, to Washington DC for a trip to the Smithsonian Institution, Davis comes to realize that times are changing, and that her profession as a typesetter is not likely to be stable as computers and other more modern methods of typing come to be. This essay explores what it is like to see the practice you love fall out of favor, as the exhibit she witnesses at the Smithsonian exhibit ‘The History of Type,’ that the photocomposition machines she used to use are all roped off at the end of the exhibit, being viewed upon by everyone else as valuable antiques, thus making the author feel as if she has become an old, out of place, dinosaur.

This piece is interesting for the ideas it offers up, especially if the reader is interested in the profession Davis has experience in. She focuses nicely on the subject and the narrative progresses in a linear way. Her emotions are also written about on the page, bringing in her humanity into the piece. However, it could easily be expanded upon, perhaps even transformed into a true memoir, as the introductory page suggests the author wishes it to be. Additional characters, insights, and revelations added to the story would help this dinosaur escape extinction.


Domestic Enemy No. 1 by Franklin Thomas Revere

Creating awareness amongst American citizens about the Federal Reserve’s uses and acts is something Revere strives for in his pamphlet “Domestic Enemy No.1: What the FED really doesn’t want you to know or understand and what you can do to help fix the problem.” His pamphlet is separated into four sections: current problems, possible solutions, background information, and the appendix. Each section answers questions the average citizen might have about the FED and America’s current debt crisis. At the end of each section, there is also a convenient page for reader notes. Throughout the pamphlet, he explains why it should be America’s goal to rid itself of the FED and petition its government to create a National or Sovereign Bank. Revere, a passionate writer and visionary, pushes his readers to become active citizens and less “debt service slaves.”

“Domestic Enemy No. 1” is a pamphlet that wants to tell a story about the financial woes of America and who is to blame for it. It urges citizens to free themselves of their normalcy bias and start taking action towards change. Although loaded with charisma, Revere’s pamphlet is not explanatory enough about what the FED is and how it functions. Those unaware of the FED and its roles might become confused by his explanation of it. If the text were expanded, his vision and thoughts could be understood more clearly by common citizens. As it is now, only those who already have an idea of the situation at hand would appreciate his thoughts. Lastly, Revere does not include references in his pamphlet, making its credibility questionable. He refers readers to his blog for sources, but this is not clearly listed on the pamphlet. With revision, “Domestic Enemy No. 1” could become a pamphlet that can enlarge the minds of thousands of citizens.


Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Four: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill


“If we would provide an adequate defense for the United States, we must have…Alaska to dominate the North Pacific.” When US Secretary of State William Seward said these words in the mid-1860s, he was trying to convince Congress to buy Alaska as a state. It wasn’t until almost a century later, however, that the federal government so acted and the people of Alaska were able to shout, “We’re in!” But in the years between these two historic hallmarks, a lot of monumental military moments played out on Alaskan land – and the Aunt Phil’s Trunk series explores each and every one. Volume Four of this series carries readers from 1935 through 1960, touching upon topics such as World War II, the Cold War, and Alaska’s long journey toward statehood. Both a verbal and a visual account, it pools together poignant facts about this period and presents them alongside stunning visual images of Alaska’s people, places, and things. The photographs in the book were compiled from several esteemed institutions, including, among others, the Alaska State Library, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, and the University of Alaska, Anchorage and Fairbanks – and the wonderful words that fill its pages come from author Laurel Downing Bill’s research of the rare documents and texts found in the library of her late aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, one of Alaska’s most respected historians, who had a lifelong interest in preserving the history and heritage of her home place.

The tagline on the title page of this text reads, “Bringing Alaska’s history alive!” – and that’s exactly what “Aunt Phil’s Trunk, Volume Four” does. The writing is very approachable and unassuming and is sure to entertain, educate, and enlighten both seasoned and novice history buffs alike. What’s more, the writing is sincere and obviously heartfelt, demonstrating Bill’s passion for the subject and giving the stories a sentimental appeal that makes learning fun. This sentimentality, together with the photos, maps, reproductions, and/or other illustrations found on nearly every page, imbues life into Bill’s words and helps create a comprehensive and compassionate composite of a unique chapter in the rich history of The Last Frontier state.


Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Three: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill

Laura Downing Bill’s Aunt Phil’s Trunk, Volume 3, is subtitled, Bringing Alaska’s History Alive! As a huge fan of history, and knowing very little of Alaska, I was excited to delve in. The book follows a chronological pattern, outlining the major legislation and industrial movements that transformed Alaska from its long plateau as a First Nations/Native American culture to the 1930s. Later volumes in the series are excerpted in previews following the text of Volume 4, teasing the reader through to the beginnings of modern American state Alaska is today. Historical photographs, excerpts from contemporary news accounts, and peeks into the first-hand memoirs of everyday people chronicle the last century. I estimate half the book is made up of these source materials, and they are delightful. The later chapters, particularly those about the “Daring Flyboys,” Native Alaskan Culture, and the incursion of the greater American political process into Alaska even before its induction to statehood, are the most in-depth, as one would expect. There is a huge amount of information presented, much of it entirely new to me.

For all the information it contains, however, I found the book rather thin. The photographs entirely support the concept of a Great-Aunt’s trunk inspiring a great work—they amount to a time-lapse effect, especially in the e-book format—scrolling through the book’s pages, the quality of the photography clarifies along with the changes in the content, bringing the reader a sense of Alaska coming forward through time. What has been done with them, unfortunately, is not nearly as compelling as the source materials deserve. The first several chapters read like a book report: full sentences, fleshed out to more than bullet points, but still not more than a list of facts and events. The lack of analysis makes it difficult to invest in the development of the state. On the occasions I was intrigued and felt drawn into an aspect of the history, I found myself Googling in other windows, having realized fairly quickly that textured back-story was not as detailed in certain parts as I wanted it to be. Aunt Phil’s Trunk may be said to bring Alaska’s history alive, but in its current state, its quality of life could be improved with a deeper dive into contemplating how the pictures came to be.


Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Two: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 2 tells the story of Alaska in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It includes stories from Phyllis Downing Carlson, who moved to Alaska in 1914, and was co-written by Laurel Downing Bill. From their efforts, readers get an in-depth look at what Alaska is like during the time period with stories of railways, the Alaskan entertainment industry, and the economic change due to the Gold Rush that occurred there. The historical context allows you to understand the transformation of Alaska’s rapid development. In fact, during the Gold Rush, people began to discover that the entertainment industry was as profitable as the gold industry, resulting in a surge in popularity of dancers, singers, wrestling matches and more. This in turn arguably created more wealth for those who ventured to Alaska and became entertainers there than those who went seeking to strike it rich and find gold. Indeed, it was easy for gold hunters to be misdirected, literally, down a wrong path. For example, there was an Alaskan newspaper hoax about how the Valdez Glacier trail was the best trail when, in truth, the weather conditions were so harsh that it spelled certain doom for anyone who used it. Can you imagine how difficult and dangerous it would’ve been to try and seek fortune in Alaska, only to get there and have newspapers there lie to you intentionally to make sure you never found your riches? Aunt Phil’s Trunk is full of stories about these kinds of problems that gold miners found waiting for them when they arrived in Alaska.

Perhaps the most important point to mention is the authenticity of this book. If you are interested in reading a book about the Gold Rush and want to find out what it was really like from those that actually experienced it, well, no problem here; Phyllis lived during that time period. This 300+ page read uses wonderful pictures along with her perspective to paint an accurate picture of what life really was like back then. I feel that for this reason, Aunt Phil’s Trunk has enormous value for researchers looking to get insight into that period. This was a very interesting and thorough read.


Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Phyllis Downing Carlson & Laurel Downing Bill

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive written by Phyllis Downing Carlson and Laurel Downing Bill is a collection of short stories and photographs compiled together into a five volume book series introducing readers to the life’s research of both authors, including the history of Alaska’s first inhabitants through the Alaskan gold rush. The book tells of the lifestyle, adventures, and habitat of the Alaskan Natives, the Russian fur traders arriving in the 1700s, as well as the late 1800s civilization when Alaska became a part of the United States of America. Phyllis Downing Carlson spent her entire life collecting stories and photographs of Alaska and it’s people throughout the years. Phyllis, or Aunt Phil as she is referred to, was a teacher in the 1930s for many years in a few different areas of Alaska. Thus, she began gaining the respect and friendship from native tribe chiefs and was able to obtain many stories and facts to help her research immensely. As Phyllis’ research ended, Laurel Downing Bill picked up where ‘Aunt Phil’ left off and continued gathering information, researching, and interviewing, to create this book’s collection of facts and stories.  Come read and be intrigued by a fascinating timeline of events and by the people who shaped present day Alaska. Combined with her Aunt Phil’s hard work and research, Laurel Downing Bill has created an intriguing series of historical facts and stories of Alaska’s native people, land, past events, and occurrences. The book is written much like a textbook with all the facts, only in a more conversational and inviting way. The pictures inserted with the text allow a reader to envision exactly what the authors speak of in the context. The layout, story, plot, and text were all displayed accurately and logically. The book is very insightful, educational, and an enjoyable read. Aunt Phil’s trunk is suited for readers who love history, Alaska, Native American/Eskimo heritage, and American history.


The One Mile Sign: The Life and Times of a Cotton-Picking Tobacco Primer by James P. Daniels

315Ra6z-JeL._BO1,204,203,200_In One Mile Sign, Daniels tells the story of his beginnings in rural North Carolina, where he worked as a cotton-picker, a profession that was unfairly rewarded for the harsh conditions its laborers were forced to endure.  Daniels and his childhood acquaintances sometimes went weeks without attending school during the summer, because they had to work jobs themselves to help support their families.  In those rare moments when work or family could be set aside for an evening, the boys liked to take walks to the town limits, fishing and chasing after the local wildlife.  It is these moments, years later, that Daniels still recalls and misses from his childhood: thoughtfully tender and reverent memories that many of us – now adults – can relate to.  But Daniels did not wish to work in the cotton fields his whole life, so he began taking steps that would lead him to larger things.  After attending vocational school, he enrolled in the Air Force and served as an airplane technician.  During the summer, Daniels would visit family in New York City, eventually meeting his wife, Quincy, and marrying her soon after.  In the end, Daniels was recruited by the Smithsonian where he was responsible for building and speccing the materials required for museum exhibitions and displays.  At the end of his career, Daniels was able to retire happily, successfully, and respectfully, knowing that he had worked to his fullest potential.

Daniels’ memoir is excellent because there is no attempt to burnish the truth, as many memoirists are prone to do.  The author admits that he encountered moments of doubt and weakness, but that ultimately his decisions led him in the proper direction.  What’s more, readers will appreciate Daniels’ story as the truly remarkable tale it is.  Working in a variety of different settings, Daniels often encountered racism from his colleagues and his superiors, expected to settle for lower pay than his white coworkers while usually doing just as much as (if not more than) their own jobs required.  One Mile Sign is not only a testament to the unfair times the author grew up in, but a powerful story from which readers will undoubtedly draw strength and determination.


My Mother’s Wisdom, or How Does the Phoenix Rise From the Ashes? by Gay Rodrigues

ead89158-1378-4492-93b1-6151cad320b8_DThis bright-spirited memoir is a reminder of what it means to be young and doubtful, and to feel like you don’t belong or that no one understands you.  In “My Mother’s Wisdom,” Rodrigues relates the story of her childhood: she grew up in Northern California’s Santa Clara Valley (later to be rechristened “Silicon Valley,” once the tech boom hit) on her parents’ prosperous pear orchard.  She dabbled in music and student leadership but didn’t really find her true calling until later in life.  At just 117 pounds, Rodrigues considered herself to be “the fattiest, ugliest girl in California” – and if that isn’t an indication of how much damage the media can have on a young person’s self-confidence, then I don’t know what is.  After high school, she quickly married and moved far away from her friends and family, which ultimately she considered to be one of her life’s biggest mistakes.  But Rodrigues avowed to go back to school and get her degree in Criminology, and eventually she makes the decision to cut her abusive husband out of her life and return to her loved ones in California.

“My Mother’s Wisdom” is a colorful, thoughtful collection of one mother’s advice to her daughter that is sure to be a comfort to anyone navigating through life’s maelstroms.  It would also make a wonderful gift for someone who is about to pass a major life milestone, or for anyone who needs a reminder of how much they are loved.  Rodrigues has helpfully included a set of reflection questions at the end of her memoir, for personal contemplation or as part of a book club discussion.  Readers will find hope and inspiration in the numerous phrases and images included throughout “My Mother’s Wisdom,” and we hope they will also find the strength to follow their own path in life.


Living Through the Pain: The Lonely Me by Cathy A. Kurtz

living_through_the_pain_the_lonely_me_by_cathy_kurtz_1939288460“Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else.  Where you are right now is God’s place for you.  Live and obey and love and believe right there.”  

Cathy lost her parents and older brother in a plane crash when she was only sixteen years old; her memoir opens with a short story she wrote one year after the accident, which drew the attention of literary award-granting groups from around the country.  In the blink of an eye, Cathy is left with only her sullen and withdrawn brother, Kerry, who copes with their parents’ death by feeding his growing alcohol and drug addictions, and whom Cathy later discovers is harboring a terrible burden of his own.  Throughout the chaos left by her parents’ sudden departure from her life, Cathy endures a painfully restrictive and dehumanizing relationship with a young man from high school which continues into college and eventually results in the couple’s marriage and the birth of Cathy’s son, Nick.  Several tortuous years pass and Cathy finally summons the courage to leave her husband, though the divorce itself is long and tortuous, and only made worse by the interference of Cathy’s brother, who seeks to hurt his younger sister’s reputation out of misplaced spite.  Believe it or not, though, Cathy’s life takes an unexpectedly positive turn, and she is able to find true happiness with a patient, warm-hearted man after moving to California with her young son.

This remarkable memoir is a must-read for anyone dealing with life’s hurdles and struggles.  It reminds us (like the above quote) that one must live in the moment, neither dwelling on the pains of one’s past, nor worrying about the obstacles hidden in one’s future.  While we may not ever understand why terrible things happen to good people, it’s comforting to think that there is an overarching plan for the world we live in and a purpose in life for every single person that walks the planet.  No matter your stance on religion, Kurtz’s memoir, entitled “Living Through the Pain: The Lonely Me,” offers readers terrific advice.  At its heart, this is a story about taking control of your own life when things have long spiraled away from you.  After spending her whole life wondering why certain things had happened to her, Cathy discovers that the most important thing in life isn’t having understanding – it’s having the patience to let the truth reveal itself in its own time.


Here, There, Everywhere by Peter Dunkley

Finding love, running with bulls, and taking community baths are just a few adventures in Peter Dunkley’s Here, There, Everywhere: A Travel Writer’s Memories. This intriguing book not only has the wit to keep its audience entertained, but the intelligence and depth that make it an honest representation of history and culture. Dunkley takes his readers through the natural landscapes and concrete jungles of the world to places as far as Bombay, Burma, and the Andorra mountains. Dunkley is a born traveler and writer whose career path has led him to always be moving and challenging himself, creating fun and enlightening stories for readers. This educational memoir will teach readers about the customs, beliefs, and ever changing and developing societies around the globe.

Here, There, Everywhere focuses on positive experiences, some of which stem from unfortunate events. Each chapter gives a glimpse of one meaningful period in time for Dunkley, making the book easy to read and explore. Although concentrated with a high volume of settings and experiences discussed, some sections do not contain as much detail or explain the locations thoroughly enough to unfamiliar audiences. This book is good to enjoy over a long period of time due to it having a reflective quality and varying settings. Dunkley’s writing is well put together, albeit somewhat dense, and is a very effective introduction to new areas of the world. Although the memoir lacks a fully satisfying climax, every chapter provides the reader with moments of excitement and drama. This is a great book for travel readers and global historians who enjoy a good laugh.


A Couple’s Cross-Country Road Trip Journal by Lorenzo and Sylvia Harris

On a road trip across the United States, Lorenzo Harris, and his wife Sylvia Harris visited twenty-four different states in the span of just eighteen days. The resulting book that they began working on while they were traveling, ‘A Couple’s Cross-Country Road Trip Journal,’ tells about their first hand experiences visiting the multiple locales they decided upon. Starting their journey on June 4th, 2013, the couple left their home in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to head to their destination of Montana, while stopping along the way to witness all they could see. Stopping in places like New Orleans, El Paso, Los Angeles, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, both North and South Dakota, and Little Rock, just to name a few, the reader has the chance to recount the road trip taken by this husband and wife, as if they too are along for the ride.

This account is just short of 100 pages, so it is a very quick and easy read. The cover is beautiful and the colored photographs included at the end of the narrative add a nice touch to the journal entries. While most of the entries are short, they are still filled with nice details. It’s interesting to read about how the couple experienced normal road trip occurrences, such as fear of running out of gas, and stopping at an antique shop along the road. This book reads more like a journal than a memoir, so at times there are slow parts, but regardless, it is inspiring to read about how Lorenzo and Sylvia followed their dreams to go on this road trip they had been thinking about for so long. It would be nice if there was a map in the book that showed the route they took, but nevertheless, after reading this travel journal, you’ll feel as if you know the way.


What Freedom Smells Like by Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis’ memoir What Freedom Smells Like is an unrestrained and unapologetic story of a life. Amy’s honest and open writing style is refreshing, reminding us that life should be deeply felt, even if those feelings are not pleasant. Amy introduces her story by talking about the difficult journey that she took when she was in her early twenties. During this period of her life she spends time in a mental hospital, battles with an addiction to self-harm, and has troublingly low self-esteem. As she is recovering, Amy decides to attend Berkeley for her undergraduate degree. It is here that Amy meets Truth Lewis, a man whose passion sweeps her away and allows her to take large steps in healing the pieces of herself that have been broken. As her relationship with Truth grows, many of his weaknesses are revealed and he is no longer the man that Amy thought he was. As Truth begins to crush Amy with his possessiveness, his distrust, and his physical abuse, all of the work that Amy had done on bettering herself is unravelled. As Amy loses herself in her unconditional love of Truth, she fights a battle to open her eyes and see the truth about what is happening to her.

While Amy’s journey can seem extreme to some, the lessons that she learns both about herself and about life as a whole, are lessons that everyone can benefit from. Throughout her journey, Amy comes to realize the importance of cherishing, loving, and being able to depend on only one person: herself. What Freedom Smells Like is a work that encourages us all to take a step back and look at ourselves, to see if there are things that we can change so that we too can grow in our enjoyment and appreciation of life.


Good Girls Don’t by Patti Hawn

Exploring the real life story of what it was like to give birth as an unwed teenage mother in the 1950s, author and Los Angeles film publicist Patti Hawn has written an affecting and heart wrenching memoir, her debut book, entitled Good Girls Don’t. The sister of famous movie star, Goldie Hawn, Patti finds herself contemplating many difficult options on what to do when she finds out that her high school boyfriend has gotten her pregnant. In an era when sex education was not taught, and abortions were still illegal, the only real option Patti has is to have the baby in secret, and give it up for adoption as soon as it is born. Although the memoir focuses a lot on this aspect of Patti’s life, the narrative goes on from here, as it explore the other trials and tribulations that Patti undergoes throughout her life, finding more pain and finally happiness along the way. After many years, Patti searches for the son she gave up, and reconnects with him, bringing back a piece of her life that she believed was gone for good. This memoir delves deeply within the author’s consciousness, as she explores on the page what it is like to live a life filled with so many hard choices regarding those you love.

The reason this memoir succeeds so thoroughly at what it sets out to do is because Patti has the ability to capture the humanity of everyone she writes about, including herself. This is not an easy story to read, nor was it one to live, but through the elements of a family saga, a self-discovery tale, and a timeline of events filled with secrets and redemption, Patti has constructed an engrossing read that will stay with you. She tells about her life in an honest and upfront way, which causes the reader to sympathize with the struggles she has gone through. Which, in the end, also elicits a great deal of joy by the book’s conclusion, when you realize that things have worked themselves out, and that the author has found peace with the way things have gone. This is a profound memoir that you don’t want to miss.


Challenges of LIVING with Chronic Illness…Beginnings & Endings by Kathleen Lewis

“To receive the benefit of our captivity to chronic illness, we must accept the situation and turn it into the best possible account to share with others.” This is exactly what Lewis has done with Challenges of LIVING. It is informative, inspirational and uplifting. Lewis’ personal struggle with a chronic disease and her professional background in nursing and rehabilitation counseling allow for a unique insider’s view on chronic illness and how to not just cope, but to live.

As Lewis states in the foreword, 133 million, or 45 percent of the population, have at least one chronic disease. She was among that statistic when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune/connective tissue disease called systematic lupus erythematosus (SEL). The illness turned her life around, but through understanding, optimism, faith, and writing, she learned to adjust her way thinking and discovered things about herself she never knew before. She has dealt with a divorce, disability, multiple surgeries, and being a single mother to very active teenage boys. Despite, all of this, she was able to reinvent herself. For example, she often frightened people or was laughed at when she had to wear a rebreather mask. She learned how to become okay with the situation and how to laugh at herself. With her thinning hair, she learned to rock fashionable hats and revamped her style, even planning and participating in a fashion show.

With her step-by-step “living” process, she covers all the bases including: grieving, sexuality and changes in romantic relationships, family, dependence/independence/interdependence, understanding and acceptance, dealing with fatigue, spirituality, overcoming depression and darkness, anger, social security disability, and physician/patient relationships. “Become a pioneer headed on a quest of the unknown of yourself,” Lewis writes. “Grow to accept and love the totality of ‘you’ that you do find.” This book is a great tool for anyone facing a chronic illness and for loved ones who are part of the journey.


Double Spy by Peter van Wermeskerken


As a young man in the 1960s, Dutch native Peter van Wermeskerken was an enthusiastic chess player who often competed in months-long chess tournaments with other players from around the world, all by mail.  Each player would communicate a single move per letter, then wait several days, often longer, for his opponent’s response.  For Peter, it was a great way to meet other young people and to expand his own ways of thinking.  Before long, a correspondent in Germany asked Peter if he knew of anyone who might like to communicate with an attractive single woman named Kathë living in East Germany – Peter volunteered himself.  The two hit it off (which isn’t always easy to achieve in hand-written letters), and Peter made several trips to Kathë’s hometown to visit her family.  It happened that Peter’s presence in East Germany caught the attention of the local spy recruiters, who asked, very simply, if he might consider doing some work for them upon his return to the Netherlands.  But Peter felt he needed to bring the matter to the attention of his father and of his country, after which he was encouraged to follow through as an East German spy while also reporting back to Dutch intelligence agencies on events unfolding in Eastern Europe.  And just like that – Peter launched his career as a double agent.

Peter van Wermeskerken’s memoir entitled “Double Spy” is the honest account of his time spent as a spy, working between Eastern and Western Europe during the Cold War.  In Western society, the term “spy” is rife with numerous cultural connotations, not the least of which include dashing young gentlemen like James Bond and Jason Bourne, whose exploits always seem to end with several enemies expiring from gunshots to the head.  “Double Spy” offers a different, yet perhaps more truthful, perspective on espionage.  Van Wermeskerken recounts numerous reasons why a person might be tempted into spying: loyalty to one’s nation and people, loyalty to an ideology, or greed.  But, in this case, it was love.  Peter ends up a spy – and a double spy at that – because of the young woman he began writing letters to back home in the Netherlands.  He hopes that his work with the Germans will allow him to return to his country with Kathë as his new bride.  In the end, things don’t quite work out how Peter expects, though somehow he is able to look back on the whole ordeal with an unshakable sense of humor and good nature.  This is definitely a story worth the attention of anyone interested in war stories or in romance.


Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In by Keith Hirshland

wpid-IMG_20130913_172811Some families are doctors, some are lawyers.  Others are accountants or airplane pilots or farmers or hairdressers.  Keith Hirshland’s family works in the television industry.  In his memoir, entitled Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In, Hirshland recounts the story of how he first got started in the TV biz working for his father’s local station in Reno, Nevada.  After a number of years working behind and in front of the camera, Hirshland realized that he had discovered his passion, which isn’t all that surprising considering the lasting influence his own father (a TV great himself) had on his career.  From Reno to Connecticut, Hirshland’s career begins to snowball until he happily finds himself participating in the birth of the niche sports channel market.  Along the way, Hirshland encounters a variety of hardships, triumphs, and disappointments, which are captured here in his memoir as snappy, charming vignettes.  Ultimately, Cover Me Boys is the story of what it takes to succeed not only in business, but in life.

Quirky and tear-jerking, Hirshland’s memoir is extraordinarily expansive in that it follows his journey from the very beginning, providing portraits of family members, co-workers, and loved ones who played a role in his professional (and personal) development.  It quickly becomes apparent just how many people must be credited with helping a young kid find success in his career of choice.  Hirshland hints that without a particular leg-up from certain individuals, he wouldn’t have ended up where he is today.  And, by the same logic, Cover Me Boys shows that even negative moments in our lives – layoffs, missed professional opportunities, botched interviews – often put us on the path to true happiness.  After his father’s TV station in Reno was bought up by a larger company and Hirshland found himself out of a job, he summoned the courage required to seek more challenging work elsewhere.   Eventually, he would go on to interview celebrities like Robin Williams and Dianna Ross, while having zany experiences (like racing camels in Arizona) along the way.  Cover Me Boys proves that the most important factor of success in life and in business isn’t luck, or talent, or even money – it’s passion.


Loveyoubye by Rossandra White

Rossandra White’s Loveyoubye is a heartbreaking and raw true story of a deteriorating marriage, set against the backdrop of Laguna, California. After 25 years of marriage, an affair by her long-haired surfer husband, Larry, forces Rossandra to make one of the hardest decisions of her life. Larry had charmed Rossandra at the post office, where they both worked, and they quickly wed, only to witness the sparks of their romance fizzle out years down the road. At the heart of the relationship is Sweetpea, the pair’s beloved Staffordshire bull terrier who was “supposed to save the marriage.” Sweetpea has serious liver problems and it’s her that keeps Larry and Rossandra connected throughout their tumultuous relationship. On top of it all, Rossandra’s brother, Garth, who lives with the rest of her family in Nkana, Zambia, is also experiencing worsening health problems. Faced with mental and physical disabilities all his life, it’s Rossandra’s duty to help him. She travels back to her native Zambia, where she lived before emigrating to the United States nine years ago, to visit her son and his family, and check on her brother. Rossandra’s world has been shattered in multiple ways, but she is a strong-spirited artist and she is determined to pick up the pieces and glue them back together.

This is a beautifully sad account of the realistic fact that sometimes good things have an expiration date, and there’s no way to change it. White’s descriptions and dialogues are fluid and exhibit an effortless “realness.” Most interesting is when she takes the reader back to Africa, where she describes her childhood there, and gives the reader a realistic perspective of issues like poverty, racism, and diamond mining, which caused the death of her father. This story is about experiencing a whirlwind of loss and holding on with white knuckles, trying to pull oneself out of the mess. Through it all, White maintains a bold and powerful voice, and summons courage within her. This is something we could all learn a lesson from.


How Am I So Normal? by Brian Todaro

Today we had the pleasure of reviewing Brian Todaro’s autobiography, “How Am I So Normal?” in which Todaro takes a magnifying glass to many of the formative experiences that led to him becoming the man he is today.  Todaro grew up in New York City with parents of both Italian and Jewish decent and several younger siblings.  His mother watched the children at home while his father developed film strips for the movie industry at a warehouse he owned in the city.  Todaro’s autobiography reads almost like a movie itself.  We are offered glimpses of historical moments in our country’s life – the fight for women’s rights, changing attitudes towards African-Americans and gays, the advent of the Information Age – that provide an excellent counterpoint for the author’s personal story, placing his own experiences in the context of U.S. culture at the time.  While many of Todaro’s memories pass for routine, a few – and you’ll have to read to find out – stand out vividly against the black-and-white backdrop of memory.  The dialogue is so fresh it’s as if Todaro carried a notebook throughout his entire life, jotting down his conversations with friends and family in order to keep them carefully catalogued for the future.  Furthermore, Todaro comments that his childhood memories seem to take up a wide bank of storage space in his brain, and they also serve as the focal point for at least the first half of his autobiography.

Touched by early tragedy, Todaro’s story is about the enduring love and acceptance of family, the complicated balance of power between a child and his or her parents, and the overall optimism that helped Todaro face many struggles and obstacles in his own life.  The heart of “How Am I So Normal?” is the author’s relationship with his father, whose connections with the Italian mafia led to his murder while Todaro was still young.  For many years, Todaro dreams of carrying out vengeance against his father’s murderers, though matters take a somewhat unanticipated turn as previously buried truths about his father’s past come to light.  This is a fantastic book for anyone to read, especially if you’re trying to make sense of your own path in the world.  Todaro’s story shows that there is a meaning to why and how events happen in our life, but it is up to us to make the most of what we are given.


I Have CFS But I Don’t Look Sick by Pam Kidd

In the informative and heartbreaking book, ‘I Have CFS, But I Don’t Look Sick’ by Pam Kidd, the author brings the reader into an immersive story, that reflects both the harsh realities of how Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can affect the body, as well as the personal struggles she has been dealt with since being overtaken by CFS over twenty-two years ago. This short book starts with an introduction explaining what the symptoms of CFS are, as well as driving the point home that this illness is very often misunderstood and downplayed as not being a serious debilitating sickness. The narrative then moves forward, as Pam recounts how she first started to feel the effects of CFS, just as she becomes a new mother for the first time. The fatigue and the other symptoms such as terrible headaches, insomnia, IBS, and sensitivities to light and sound went undiagnosed for years, before Pam started to get some answers and started learning about CFS. Pam also discusses happier moments in her life, such as becoming a nurse, and the joy her children bring to her. Unfortunately, as the book goes on, the reader also finds out that both of Pam’s kids are eventually afflicted with CFS, and continue to struggle with it today.

This book succeeds in many ways, the foremost being the way that Pam ties in her own personal battle with the disease so seamlessly along information about CFS. This is done in a way that will be beneficial to anyone who has been diagnosed with CFS, or for someone who just wants to learn more about it. Coming in at just nearly a hundred pages, this is a quick read that is broken down into just four main parts. The length of the narrative fits the subject matter perfectly, and amongst the words there are even some photographs of Pam and her family, as well as their beloved pet rabbits, which are great pets for people struggling with CFS. Pam’s story is written in a fully developed and relatable way, causing the reader to sympathize with her pain and wish for her full recovery. The cover itself, which is a simple picture of Pam centered in the middle of the title offers a striking and jarring contemplation, causing the reader to wonder, how is it that this beautiful woman is so sick? Kudos to Pam Kidd for recognizing this idea, as this is the very main message of her book. All in all, this is a wonderfully executed book, that is both well organized and a joy to read. It could easily be argued that this is the best memoir out there that focuses on the devastating effects of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.


Fictional Worlds by L. A. Alexander 

Best Book of the Month – January 2014


Red City Review had the recent pleasure of reading L. A. Alexander’s “Fictional Worlds: Traditions in Narrative and the Age of Visual Culture,” the first volume in a new series entitled “Storytelling on Screen.”  This hefty tome, started back in 2006, has been many years in the making, its ideas developed and sharpened after countless talks by Alexander at colleges and universities across the nation.  Volumes 1 – 4, contained here, examine the many different facets of both visual and verbal storytelling, including genre, character, drama, and action.  While the book places a special emphasis on modern film, it also cites numerous works of classic and contemporary fiction, making it an excellent learning tool for budding writers and filmmakers alike.  The book is well engineered and easy to follow, with certain words and concepts placed in bold to highlight their significance and descriptive headings dividing chapters into digestible chunks.  “Fictional Worlds” was created with moviemakers in mind, so it would easily fit into most film curricula, and other parts of the text would be useful resources for classic literature and fiction writing courses.  However, this book’s true value lies in its universal appeal: there is truly something in here for interest to anyone, whether you plan on breaking into the film industry or not.

“Fictional Worlds” is grounded in the idea that we tell stories as a way to help explain why and what we feel, and to allow disparate peoples to connect through the power of well-told tales, a concept that extends to literature, film, music, and even video games.  Most intriguingly, Alexander argues that our methods and forms of storytelling are connected to the very heart of human society and culture, which means that as our species navigates its way into a more globally integrated era, our stories will continue to grow and evolve with us.  Looking back, it’s a simple theory to prove: we’ve already grown from cave paintings to cuneiform to fairytales to international blockbuster franchises like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, which verifies our desire to find common ground in a singularly human narrative.


Free Love: True Stories of Love and Lust on the Internet by Thomas Kelleher

Best Book of the Year – 2013

Best Book of the Month – December 2013

A compelling and entertaining read that delves deeply within the sexual psyche of people from all different walks of life through the filtered lens of internet personal ads, Free Love: True Stories of Love and Lust on the Internet by Thomas Kelleher is a revealing book that underscores how the search for affection affects everyone differently. This non-fiction book is set up into six different sections, every combination of the two genders (both heterosexual and homosexual), missed connections, and casual encounters. Within each section the original ad is displayed upon the page, followed by frank and honest interviews featuring the person who posted the ad, discussing what resulted from their foray into online personals, as well as various relationship advice and private disclosures. The ads themselves are brief, with usually only a paragraph or a few sentences of text, while the interviews afterwards run from one page to several. Regardless, all of the interviews featured have the power to affect the reader, whether it is due the illustrative sex described, or the harrowing accounts of rejection and the fear of being alone. While some of the stories detailed are emotional, others are amusing and humorous.

This is a great book for many reasons, not only is the content highly engaging and relatable, but the layout and organization that Kelleher has employed in putting this work together is also exceptional. In the print edition, the graphics, text, and spacing all fit appropriately with the material that is explored. Blurred images are placed as backdrops, emojis litter the pages, and large quotes frame each individual section. The internet has changed a lot of things, but what it has arguably changed the most is how people interact with other. This is an idea that is ever present in this book, as people from all different walks of life discuss the reasons for posting personal ads, whether it be for companionship, sex, friendship, or love. The book has a good balance of lighthearted and deep material for anyone interested in online dating. It also approaches a wide variety of different situations, therefore containing an interesting story for any reader. Free Love is the kind of book you can revisit again and again, reading portions at a time, talking with your friends about what you’ve discovered, which in turn will only cause you to wonder if you would ever do anything listed within the book’s pages. This is the book about free online personals.


NEXT! The Search for My Last First Date by Robert James

We’ve all had good dates.  And we’ve all had really, really awful dates.  But what makes a good date good, or a bad date bad?  Robert James was in his mid-forties when he and his wife got their divorce.  He hadn’t been on a date with a woman in over twenty years, so when it was time to start meeting potential mates again, he turned to his co-workers for advice.  Together, they created an online dating profile for Robert that serves as the jumping-off point for his autobiographical collection of dating stories called “NEXT! The Search for My Last First Date.”  Robert takes his readers through just a handful of the dates he went on with women he met on dating websites, including a woman who asked him to help pay off her personal debts from her son’s divorce, a church singer who offered a very different sort of “service” in a public parking lot, and another woman who looked up Robert’s address online before paying him a rather unexpected visit one morning. In the course of his book, Robert ultimately arrives at a clearer state of self-awareness, and readers will be sure to identify with the many awkward, hilarious, and just plain weird tales of twenty-first century dating collected here in “NEXT.”

Whether you’re single, married, or somewhere in between, Robert James’ “NEXT!” is an incredibly sincere account of one man’s search for his happily ever after.  Robert’s a normal guy – works in business, went to college, has three kids, goes to church – and a person can’t help but wonder when modern dating got so complicated.  The stories found in this collection tend to follow a certain pattern: Robert’s dates fizzled as a result of either poor chemistry or poor timing.  There’s plenty of both here, but the relationships that failed due to bad timing are particularly heartbreaking.  They prove that even after all our own efforts to find true love, other factors are at play here, whether it’s fate or life’s simple randomness or something else entirely.  Ultimately, “NEXT!” is an honest, optimistic, and humorous portrayal of dating in the modern world that proves that even though we all hate dating, the payoff is definitely worth it.


One Man In Ten Million by Ronald Powers 

f‘One Man In Ten Million’ by Ronald Powers is the account of his father’s life-altering experience battling enemy troops across Europe during the course of World War II.  Richard Powers was only a high school senior from rural Pennsylvania when Japanese bombers attacked our country’s troops at Pearl Harbor.  Without a second thought, Richard and his fellow classmates decided to volunteer to join the U.S. Army, knowing that in order to respond to growing threats overseas, a great many men would be required to give up their ordinary civilian lives and set out to confront the enemy in Europe.  After completing his training, Richard disembarks for Europe alongside America’s most promising young soldiers, where they soon realize just how devastating war can truly be.

Here’s a sobering fact that readers might be surprised to learn: more of our soldiers were killed by exhaustion, hunger, and exposure to the elements than by enemy forces throughout World War II.  This true tale illuminates the many hardships and horrors that young American soldiers – once called ‘The Greatest Generation’ – encountered during their tour abroad in World War II.  Furthermore, Powers’ first novel is a heart-breaking testament to his father’s love and loyalty to his country.  Written entirely from his father’s perspective, Powers describes the numerous sources of trauma, both physical and psychological, that ailed his father and his brethren as they fought to put an end to the threat of Nazism in Europe.  It is apparent from page 1 that Powers has put a great deal of heart and research into this retelling of his father’s story.  He discusses military exercises and tactical planning with ease, which adds to the overall somberness and realism of the tale. One Man In Ten Million’ speaks truth with every word, serving as a reminder of the many sacrifices our soldiers made during World War II and ensuring that their legacy is not soon forgotten.


The Ten Minute Cognitive Workout by Peggy Snyder PhD

In The Ten Minute Cognitive Workout, by Peggy Snyder, PhD a simple daily exercise is revealed that improves your mood and changes your overall behavior for the better. This easy to learn method can make your self-confidence and your outlook on life sway into a much more positive direction. Snyder promises that performing this simple ten minute exercise can evoke a feeling of happiness that will continue throughout your days. Based upon the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the workout described in this book reveals that our thoughts are tied directly to our emotions, and if we are able to control our thoughts, we are able to manage our state of well-being. The exercise itself includes writing twelve statements, reading those statements, and finally internalizing those statements to improve how you feel.  This workout is very easy to do, doesn’t take much time, and only requires a writing tool and a piece of paper. The book is very straightforward and explains the instructions in a well-organized and simple manner.

The statements themselves are meant to follow a few simple rules, the first being that each statement starts with the phrase ‘I am’ which leads into a statement about the individual’s actions or emotions. Each statement must be in the present tense and use the present participle or progressive form of the verb. Finally, each statement must be positive. This book is a great tool to use if one is feeling down or unhappy, it focuses on subjects such as depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, health issues, relationships, and much more. It is obvious that Snyder is very knowledgeable in her field, as her recommendations and suggestions that are included in this book are helpful and simple to follow. The best thing about The Ten Minute Cognitive Workout is the fact that it is not daunting in any way; both the book and the workout itself have been constructed in such an accessible manner that it is sure to help all of those who follow its advice.


CaterSavvy by Jerri Lee George

When planning a big event, regardless of the occasion, it’s almost always necessary to bring in food for the guests, and if the event is going to be catered, then perhaps it’d be best if you first read ‘CaterSavvy’ by Jerri Lee George, before you make any final decisions. This book, which is not only an informative how-to, but also a great reference guide discloses important facts, professional advice, tips, anecdotes and the dos and don’ts of the catering world. It also contains information on how to find and hire the best kind of caterer for your specific gathering, while offering theme ideas and delicious recipes from all over the United States and Canada. The book is organized into sections that are designated by meal courses, discussing everything from the history of catering, to marketing your event, to creating the menu, and giving tips for the bride to be. This book isn’t just for food professionals; rather it is an easy to read guide that is packed with accessible information to the catering world that is organized in a playful and original way.

As a veteran of the food and catering industry for over thirty years, it is very clear that George has a vast amount of knowledge about the best ways to prepare food in an entertainment setting. This book succeeds because although it is full to the brim with information about catering, it never seems overwhelming to the reader, due to the highly organized style that the information is placed in. The special sections devoted specifically to certain kinds of individuals and how they can best succeed in catering was a nice touch to include, as were the secrets of the trade section at the end that contained submissions from various food loving contributors. Without a doubt, if you’re planning to have an event catered soon, it’d be wise to pick up a copy of CaterSavvy, and consult with a professional, whose wise words are written for you, directly on the page.


Free Agent by Rennie Curran

In the memoir, ‘Free Agent’ author Rennie Curran tells the story of his love for playing football, and all of the adversity that has come along with achieving his dream to play the sport professionally. After an impressive career as an All-American linebacker at the University of Georgia, Rennie was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the third round of the NFL draft in 2010. After one season with the Titans, Curran was released, but that fact alone did not stop him from continuing to pursue his dream, with strength and humility, refusing to give up just because hardship had come his way. Curran’s story is not just about football, rather, it is the story of his life growing up as the son of Liberian immigrants, witnessing the struggles his parents had to undergo in order to give him the kind of life they never had. His words give advice on how to deal with the bumps in the road that we all come across, and how to overcome them with modesty and grace.

The reason this book succeeds so well is because its mission from the very beginning is to do more than just tell the story about a professional football player and how he got to the spot where he is today. Elements from Curran’s life are infused within every page, the components of his journey causing the story to float higher than it would if this book were just a strict account of what football means to him. Curran’s anecdotes about persevering and never giving up are inspirational and can apply to any reader’s life. This memoir is well crafted and straightforward, delivering insight to all who have achieved their dream before, and then lost it, only to strive on, reaffirming that the dream will one day be obtained again.


Artist Not Dead by Ron Nepomuceno

nepoFrom the very beginning, Artist Not Dead by Ron Nepomuceno is the kind of book that grabs your attention. The first chapter is filled with thought-provoking images delivered with word choices that make the reader’s mind wander further into the story that is being told on the page. What this memoir does so successfully is blend together multiple different writing styles in order to get the most pertinent messages across.  By mixing in anecdotes, personal stories, poems, and life lessons, Nepomuceno causes the reader to reflect on their own experiences, as he in turn writes about his own triumphs and hardships as he continues on through his journey, refusing to let his terminal diagnosis of ALS slow him down. Throughout the entire book, Nepomuceno brings up pop culture references in the form of songs, celebrities, quotes, and so much more.

Although this book is filled with such a great amount of content, varying in form and style, the reason it all works together so well is because Nepomuceno has the ability to interweave stories from his own life into the fray so effortlessly. Whether it be tales about his travels, reflections on art, or even reflections about his personal relationships, he uses these memories to accentuate the lessons and offerings his philosophical mind has dreamed up. It’s true that at its core, Artist Not Dead is a memoir, but due to the originality contained within its pages, the reading experience it offers up is so much more than just the story of one man’s life.