Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler by Trudi Kanter…..

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Trudi Kanter’s memoir about a young Jewish hat-maker
living in Vienna during Hitler’s some girls some hats reign was originally published in 1984. It was rediscovered in a second-hand book store in London and re-released.

The story of Trudi’s life is presented in a gentle way – giving the reader the full understanding of the tension of the time, without completely examining the atrocities going on. It gives us a look into the everyday life of a person trying to survive and thrive under very dire circumstances. And yet, Trudi managed to live and love and, in many ways, succeed.

The book’s conversational tone makes it an easy read. In fact, reading it is much like talking with Trudi (or having tea with your grandmother). The author focuses on the people in her life – her parents, her ex-husband, her husband, and her employees. They are all affected by the Holocaust in different ways and we get a peek into the good and bad in their daily living.

It was a stressful, harrowing time – but in between the moments of real desperation, Trudi also shares with us her happiness.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler seems to a be a full disclosure of the best and worst of the era of Hitler.

how to stop time by anne marlowe….

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I think I have shared that I am writing a novel called The Alligator Purse. In my story, the main character Savannah is addicted to heroin. Someone suggested to me that Savannah isn’t believable as a heroin user. To help fix that, they also suggested I read this memoir – how to stop time, heroin from A to Z by ann marlowe.  

My exposure to drugs has (thankfully) been very limited. I know nothing about heroin. (Which was apparently abundantly clear.)

If you are a writer, you will probably enjoy this book from a technical level. It is written like a dictionary – broken down into sub-topics which are discussed alphabetically (but with references to other subtopics that apply). I haven’t read a book in this format before and I enjoyed its snippet-style of story telling. Heroin addiction is a heavy topic and it was nice to read about it in small doses (no pun intended).

If you know someone struggling with heroin, this book would give you a lot of insights into what they are facing. It was fascinating to me to read about Ann’s addiction. And to learn that she was highly functional in her professional life.

Apparently some critics have argued that her story doesn’t sound authentic enough – whatever that means. According to her own words, Ann scheduled her life around her drug use. That sounds like at least a heavy dependence to me.

The only reason I mention the critics is to also mention that Ann never claims to know what all addicts go through – this is her story and her story alone. This isn’t a “here’s what happens to anyone who is addicted to heroin” story but rather a “here’s what happened to me” story.

Ann is a professional writer and her story is well written. I was shocked and sad and even laughed a little. This is a terrific book. I am very glad I read it!

Drinking Diaries (an anthology)…………..

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The tag line under the title of Drinking Diaries reads “Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up”.  And they do with brutal honestly and reflection.

I bought this book because Jane Friedman has an essay in it. She’s very well known in the world o’ writing and her essays appear on quite a few websites I read regularly. In one essay titled Finding and Longing for Community, Jane comes across as quiet, academic, and maybe even reserved. Of course, I don’t know Jane, but she seems so down to earth and grounded. She is certainly successful in the writing world. So, the fact that she has a drinking story intrigued me. And her essay is intriguing – and quite revealing.

As are all the essays.

I am not really sure how to describe this book. It’s great that it’s an anthology because, not unlike drinking, it’s best served in small doses. The stories are heavy and heart-breaking and real. There is humor sprinkled here and there like an olive adorning a potent cocktail.

If drinking has been a part of your life in any way – even via its absence – I think you will be glad you read these stories. You might also start to see your own drinking in a different way.

A lot of the stories come from the perspective of daughters who were affected by drinking parents. If you are a parent, it’s interesting to see drinking through a child’s lens. If you had a parent who drank (or drinks), the stories might feel pretty raw.

In a very general way, this books feels like an AL-ANON meeting (the support group for those who love an addict). It’s just a simple sharing of stories and experiences without too much judgement. And it’s a great place to start a discussion about drinking in our lives and what affect it really has on those we love and those who love us.

Hi My Name Is Loco and I Am a Racist by Baye McNeil………..

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I met Baye through blogging. He was one of my first followers and one of the first people to really take my blog seriously. He read, he commented, and he complimented.

Thanks Loco!

Baye (aka Loco), of course, has his own blog about living and teaching in Japan. He took his life story and turned it into a memoir called Hi! My Name Is Loco and I Am a Racist.

Baye McNeil's thought on life and racism

I loved Baye’s writing from the first post of his I ever read. Admittedly, initially, I thought he was a little angry. (Sometimes he was.) But he was never dismissive of someone else’s ideas – he was always willing to consider a different point of view. I quickly found the discussion sections of his blog to be the most insightful. And he was open to any question – even silly questions from a white chick like me. And he was open to changing his perspective.

This book of his is no different. He looks at himself in a mirror that most people aren’t willing to hold. Baye shares stories of how he was taught to hate (in defense of being hated) and how he continues to fight those internal demons. He shares how race has impacted many of the relationships in his life, personally and professionally.

Beyond being a open discussion about racial tensions and pressures in America and the world, Baye’s own story is compelling. He grew up in New York, did a stint  in the military and college, and ultimately ended up teaching English in Japan. Baye found the love of his life and lost her. She left him a legacy of encouragement to “write!” and be the real writer he was meant to be. He was in New York City the day the twin towers were brought down and (exactly 9 1/2 years later) he was in Japan the day it rocked with an earthquake that changed the Japanese landscape but not the Japanese people.

Baye’s constant companion throughout his time in Japan is an empty seat on a train. He does a beautiful job of weaving the importance of this unlikely character throughout his memoir. She buffers him and angers him and teaches him to dig for the truth.

Ultimately, what I enjoyed most about this book is the way that it showcases how overwhelming stereotypes can be and how insignificant they become in one-on-one relationships. And I love how Baye constantly looks for (and generally finds) the good in others and in himself.

I highly recommend this book as a fabulous tale and a needed lesson. You can purchase it here. I myself have a signed copy. (Don’t hate ;-)  )

Follow him on Twitter @Locohama.

Smooches Baye – great job!

If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away… By Bruce Farell Rosen

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.) Bruce Farell Rosen

Bruce Farrell Rosen’s memoir outlines the major events of his life. In If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away, he shares his connections to music, sports, writing, traveling, his family, and above all his mother.

At the beginning of the book, we learn that the strength of Bruce’s marriage is teetering. He tells us that he had an affair with a woman he met when he was buying a piano in New York for his son. The piano was to be a graduation gift from him and his wife to their son. The relationship understandably created a rift in his marriage and he struggles with mixed feelings about his wife throughout the book. He wants to make his wife happy (and even feels responsible for her happiness) but cannot commit to their relationship.

He shares that “perhaps (for his ex-wife) the thought of being here without romance was too painful a consideration. She wasn’t interested at all, though I did try; I so much want her to be happy, to enjoy life in its richness. Sometimes I am so sad that she is sad.” He goes on to say, ” She cannot be my medicine, but often, I would like to be hers. And when I try, I get pulled into a place of sadness from which it can take a few days to emerge. I strive to observe borders, to recognize limitations, but the lines are often amorphous – emotions, thoughts, feelings just spilling over like a faucet that continues to pour into an already-full glass.”

Bruce also writes a lot about his mother and his special relationship with her. She was a seer and tremendously important in Bruce’s life. He believes that her death was a troublesome turning point in his life. Her absence weighs heavily on him. Bruce tells us “God, I know, truly does give us just as much and no more than we can handle at any moment in time. The loss of my mom will take a lifetime to digest, so profound was her influence.”

It seems as though Bruce battles with depression at times, or at least intense sadness. The book has a maudlin feel to it. The connections to music, sports, foreign cities, and world events are certainly interesting. And it is clear that Bruce cares a great deal about the people in his life.

But the book’s 600 pages are just a lot. I think the story could have been told in about half of its current page count.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case. This disclaimer doesn’t matter so much in this review because from the very beginning of this book, we know that one Wes Moore becomes a Rhodes Scholar and another Wes Moore is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail. But I will discuss details from the book, just so you know.)

This is a story about two men, both named Wes Moore who live just a few streets away from each other in Baltimore, Maryland. They both grow up relatively poor, without fathers, in less than ideal neighborhoods. One Wes Moore goes on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, White House Fellow, world traveler, and a successful writer/businessman. The other Wes Moore lands in jail, convicted of murder and sentenced to confinement for life.

Of course the questions  beg, “How could this happen? What was the difference?”

I won’t say that this is the most eloquent story that I have read but it is perhaps one of the most important.  I don’t think I have ever felt the full weight of my parenting responsibilities as strongly as when I turned the last page.

This book is about Wes Moore and his literary twin but it also about their mothers – the decisions they did and didn’t make. It is about what they did and didn’t do because they wanted desperately to believe in their sons. And it is about what they refused to believe or were too tired to believe, ultimately understanding that their children were not innocent bystanders in their own destinies.

The author of this book is the success story – he beat the odds. But some might argue the odds were in his favor. He had parents who had gone to college and expected him to go to college. He had tremendous support from his grandparents and his mother was willing to work her arse off to make sure her son went to a school that offered him a chance to succeed. And finally, he accepted that a life without fear was a life worth working for. He doesn’t look over his shoulder to make sure the shadows of his mistakes don’t eat him alive.

I would also argue that it was critical that his mother refused to believe that her son could do no wrong. She watched for warning signs and paid attention to them. When Wes seemed to be getting lost in the streets, his mother shipped him off to military school. This decision infuriated Wes and he tried hard to distance himself from his mom. That is a tremendous sacrifice. She risked losing her relationship with him in order to save him.

We don’t learn a lot about the other Wes Moore’s mother but we did hear that she ignored some pretty significant warning signs (and even real evidence) about her son and drug activity.

The tragedy in this story is that the other Wes Moore did try to turn his life around. He entered a work training program and sought legitimate employment. But the draw of life on the streets with his older brother proved too alluring. The other Wes Moore claims he was not at the robbery when a police officer was shot but the jury decided otherwise. He will spend the rest of his life in jail. The shadows of his mistakes will sleep under him and taunt him at night.

In this time of Presidential elections and debates, the argument over “right to life/freedom of choice” cannot help but surface. What this book shows is that we must must distract ourselves from the rhetoric and turn instead to the reality of it all. We must shift the focus from judgment and blame to education and support. And I do not mean just financial support. We are very busy demanding that young girls not get pregnant in the first place, but we are hesitant to support sex education. And once the babies are born, we literally cut the umbilical cord and send them home with parents who are just children themselves.

It is a vicious cycle of ill-equipped parents raising children who will become ill-equipped parents at often very young ages. Of course, wealthy parents make horrible choices too. Their denial and ignorance is simply more gracefully coupled with the resources that allow access to lawyers, treatment, support, and forgiveness.

I wish this book had contained more of the other Wes Moore’s stories. The author interviewed him extensively and I missed hearing more from him.

What I did really like is that this book was written from a journalistic standpoint. The author did a great job of writing without judgment, apologies, or excuses. He tells the story that is and leaves the reader to determine why.

Several colleges are giving this book to their incoming freshmen so that they can weigh the importance of the choices they make. I would argue that doctors should be giving this book to new parents when they have their first sonogram so that they can weigh the importance of the choices they make.

The words on the back of the jacket seem to capture the essence of the story best, “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

Follow up with David A Koop…….

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When David Koop sent me his book to review, he wrote in his letter that I could reach out with any questions I had. Of course, I had questions – this man is fighting a killer disease and he writes a book called “Cancer – It’s a Good Thing I Got It!” So I wrote to him with two questions.

David and his ostrich boots

Honestly, I figured he’d be a little busy with his family, doctors appointments, speaking engagements, book signings, and, I dunno, waging a war on cancer. But true to his word, David wrote me back. Here is what he had to say…

1. You took a big risk with your title and I am curious about that, especially given the battle you are waging. Why was it important to you to put a cheery spin on such a daunting topic – even though you do not write the rest of the book from a PollyAnna perspective?

The title came from two things in my mind.  First was the very real fact that just a few short days after getting the diagnosis I would have fallen over dead. Because of the bone and tissue scans the doctors performed to diagnose the cancer, they found that massive pulmonary embolism and a few days later it broke loose. Had the filter not been in place, I would have fallen over dead. So in my mind I am very lucky I got cancer, for if not, I would not be here, period.

Second is my understanding that each and every year, depending where you look, there are about 150,000 to 200,000 books published. That is quite a bit of noise to be heard through. I wanted people to notice my book and to understand from the title that it would not be anything like so many other books. Here is something different, fun and interesting to read.

2. Now that the book is out there, is there anything you wish you had included?

I am fortunate to say that I am very happy with how the book came out and more importantly that it is being received so well by so many different people across the globe. My message is being heard and it is helping people and that warms my heart and gives me motivation to get up and push through those days that are just so hard. I am making a difference in the world, who can really ask for more?

As I said in my review, there is a lot to take away from this book whether you are battling cancer or not. David’s attitude is contagious and his optimism infectious. It is a testament to the power of being grateful for every blessing and taking advantage of every moment. Thanks David for sharing your story! Your story is being heard and you are making a difference.

(David’s book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Outskirts Press, or the Someday Group.

Cancer – It’s a Good Thing I Got It by David A. Koop……..

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When I first saw this title come across my email inbox, I have to say, I was skeptical. I thought the title was risky. Who could possibly be thankful for getting cancer – especially osteo sarcoma (a form of bone cancer)? And I as I turned the last page of the book, I understood that David Koop would rather not have cancer than have it. But what David beautifully helps us realize is that it doesn’t much matter what we want – sometimes we just have to deal with what we have. And the fact is, cancer did save David’s life – in the tests for diagnosing his cancer, the doctors found an embolism that would have surely killed him had it not been treated immediately.

His motto throughout the book is “Decide then do.” I love that. David doesn’t seem to have many regrets – disappoints, sure – but not regrets. What a fabulous way to live.

Cancer - It's a good thing I got it

Cancer Memoir by David Koop

What I liked most about David’s story is that it is a wonderful balance – he never underestimates the challenges he faces but he is not trying to scare or shock anyone either. And he is never preachy. His matter-of-fact retelling of his story never asks for pity and never gives up hope.

David was a single father of a seven-year-old boy when his diagnosis came in. His doctors told him frankly to “get his affairs in order.” That was in 2006. In 2012, he is still giving motivational talks, still writing a blog, and still working with The Someday Group. There are days when he can’t get out of bed and days when he is in a lot of pain, but he seems to grab tight to those moments when he isn’t in pain and make the most of them.

It is clear that this is a story about cancer and David begins by telling us his diagnosis story. Then he sidetracks and gives us the history of the important people in his life. Those stories take us about halfway through the book. That was a little frustrating because I wanted to hear right away about his battle. I wanted to get to the end and learn how he is doing now. But that is the way life goes, right? We have to become who we are and journey to our current situation – then delve in to where we are. And, as David shares, waiting is often the hardest part of the cancer journey – waiting for tests, waiting for treatments, waiting for answers, and just waiting, waiting, waiting.

David’s story is honest without really being emotional. For the most part, it is easy to read without crying – which is amazing given all that he faced and continues to face. But it is a story that should resonate with everyone who reads it – battling cancer or not – because it reminds us that time is precious and people are important. He doesn’t pretend that any of this was easy or that it should be. And he doesn’t waste time asking why or trying to change it. He fights hard with the determination of a parent who wants to raise his son. He proves that love can be a forceful weapon.

David begins each chapter with a quote. My favorite quote was the introduction to Chapter 29.

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent”
~ Marilyn Vos Savant.

That just about says it all.

The Wayward Life and Times of Dipsy Doodle Dandy by John Peaker…….

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

I read this book some time ago and I have been avoiding writing this review. No, that doesn’t sound so good, does it?

From reading his stories, you can tell that John Peaker had a fun time growing up in the “golden age” of riding bikes without helmets and drinking water straight from the hose. He seems quite impressed with his own antics. But really, to me, the stories were riddled with a bunch of bravado. Reading this book was not unlike sitting next to drunk guy in a bar who was stumbling down memory lane – telling stories that are likely embellished and probably much more interesting in the retelling than the actual happening.

If you know someone who is older and loves to tell bawdy stories, this book might be a good gift. I think the hilarity would be lost on younger generations (some of the stories would simply be bad examples for teenage boys) – which is probably John’s point – we have gotten too far away from the ability to enjoy life without being plugged in to one gadget or another. Kids don’t always pick physical play outside in the fresh air over thumb wrestling with a game controller in dark and dusty basements.

The book is an easy read – it’s just  a series of short essays – even the print is larger than normal.

What I did take away from this book is that we should all turn off the tv or the xbox and take the time to share our stories with each other and maybe even go so far as to write them down.

Love from the Other Side by Carol Shimp……….

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(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)

In Love from the Other Side, Carol Shimp delves deep into her own experience with the spiritual and paranormal worlds.

Carol knew from an early age that she had a connection to the spirit world but did not feel like she could discuss that connection with anyone. When her mother died, she decided it was time to find out more about her special link to those who had passed on from their physical existence on this earth.

Her own confidence in her abilities was ultimately tested one day while she was shopping with her daughter. That is when Carol first ran into the spirit of her former fiance/high school boyfriend. He becomes an almost ever-present and quite disturbing part of her life. In order to find out what he wants and how to help him “move to the light”, Carol visits with a spiritual guru. Together they work to uncover what “Danny” wants and needs from Carol.

Honestly, this book will not be for everyone. Readers must come to it with an open mind. It is an interesting story and I was curious to find out how it all came together. But readers wary of all things spiritual will likely find their limits tested when it comes to what they are willing to believe as real. I have no doubt that this book is an honest portrayal of what Carol experienced. But Carol’s encounters are surprising, especially when “Danny” visits Carol while she is sleeping in bed with her husband.

Love from the Other Side is Carol’s first book and the writing is simplistic so it is a quick read. If you want to find out more about her story, you can visit her website.