Category Archives: Books

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

Books is wonderful.

That’s what I scrawled in green crayon on a piece of paper on a hot summer day when I was four years old. Thanks to the quick thinking of my kvelling mother, the piece de resistance, laminated on the top of a wooden box, exists to this day.

Books by Writers I Know

I haven’t changed my mind since that day long ago. Books is wonderful, whether I’m reading them, talking about them, ordering them from Amazon, holding them in my hand or sharing them with people I care about.

I really enjoy sharing books by writers I know.

Doreen McGettigan, Mary Buchan and Janie Emaus are three terrific writers whom I have gotten to know through our blogging community. I am delighted to share their books with you.

Bristol Boyz Stomp, Doreen McGettigan

We have become numb to violence in our society. Don’t you agree? Mass shootings are commonplace now. Other violent crimes happen every day, barely getting a nod on the local news. But somehow we think that terrible crimes only happen to other people. Not us.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

But In 1999, Doreen and her family became a statistic when her younger brother, David, was brutally murdered in a road rage incident; really, a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  This crime left a young man dead, his family shattered, his community torn apart. David left  a beloved wife and young son.

It is a shocking story. Beginning with the night of his murder through the trial and beyond, Doreen writes of her heartbreak; about trying to sort out what had happened, attempting to make sense of something so evil, coming to grips with the loss of her peace-loving brother.

This is a book that I could not put down, although it was often difficult to read. Doreen is unsparing in the description of her brother’s murder and the anguish that ensued. While slipping into a deep hole of despair, she strove to retain some normalcy in her life for the sake of her remaining family members, while seeking justice in a flawed legal system. I felt her raw emotion every step of the way.

Despite this nightmare, life did go on. Doreen’s children grew up, got married, had children of their own. In the book, Doreen welcomes each grandchild by noting the child’s name and birth date, a way of acknowledging that in spite of her sorrow, life would go on and be filled with the light and promise of a brand new life.

Over IT, Mary Buchan

As an RN, Mary has spent years in the field of health and wellness, helping patients lead a healthier life through weight loss or handling stress. Now, as a woman going through a life transition of her own as an empty nester, she is focusing her career on helping midlfe women reinvent themselves to realize their full potential and live life to the fullest.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

Whether it’s a health issue, financial burden, career change or navigating rough terrain with family members, we all face some sort of challenge as life goes on. The ups and downs of life are normal, but the downs can be overwhelming. By recounting her own episodes of pain or confusion, Mary conveys an understanding of the issues many of us struggle with and shows, by example, how these can be addressed.

Mary’s book — which can be read and then referred to as a resource – contains chpaters of lighthearted anecdotes and famous quotes that relate to a variety of challenges she has faced. At the end of each chapter is a section for the reader to answer questions that pertain to one’s own life, with space to make notes or journal. I found this exercise a wonderful way to get in touch with my feelings.

There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your journey, whatever it may be. And you can reach a deeper understanding of it from sharing with others.

Mary shows that it is possible to overcome adversity and go on to lead a fulfilling and happy life, making these midlife years satisfyingly fruitful.

Before the After, Janie Emaus

In a much lighter vein, Janie has written an entertaining young adult novel that enchanted this reader (not a young adult) from the very beginning. Knowing that I enjoy reading books about time travel, Janie suggested her book to me, since its premise is based on exactly that.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

The protagonist, Jess, is a woman in her 20s who works in a coffee shop while struggling through film school. One day a handsome and alluring man stops in her coffee shop and there is an instant attraction between the two of them, but quickly the man vanishes and she is left wondering.

When their paths cross again, Jess is confused. There is something very mysterious about this man, Renn. For starters, he seems to magically disappear and reappear. What she doesn’t realize is that Renn has been sent to her from the future for a reason that will continue to unfold.

As she searches for answers, she realizes that she is falling in love with Renn and resolves to do what she needs to do to make this relationship work.

This is a fun, well-written page turner, with nicely drawn characters and snappy dialogue and a fast pace that kept up right until the end. Janie spins a great tale and this is one any age can enjoy.

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All three authors have generously offered a free copy of their book to one of my lucky readers. Please leave a comment below by July 23 and I will randomly select three winners who will receive a book in the mail. Only US addresses are eligible.

I was given a copy of each book for an honest review. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Angel in My Pocket

One day last week, a woman in my Facebook blogging group suddenly reached out for comfort. The two year-old son of someone she knew had died in a terrible accident. In our private group she was able to share the anguish that she could not share publicly. Instantly, an outpouring of sympathy flooded the page.

The heartbreak of losing a child. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Awful. Inconceivable.

Tragically, this is exactly what happened to Sukey Forbes ten years ago when her six year-old daughter, Charlotte, died due to a rare genetic disorder. In her memoir, “The Angel in My Pocket,” Forbes describes in honest detail the unbearable grief of losing a child and the tough road that comes after.

The Angel in My Pocket

Subtitled “A Story of Love, Loss and Life After Death,” the book traces Forbes’ arduous journey through intense sorrow to finding sources for healing — some of them unconventional — that gave her strength to move forward with her life. A life forever changed, certainly, but a life still capable of finding meaning and joy.

The descendant of two renowned New England families, Forbes was raised with puritanical values of self-reliance and the suppression of emotion. In her quest to see her way through her desolation, she realized she needed to find a different path, but turned to her family legacy for guidance. She was heartened to discover examples of mysticism and alternative sources of wisdom that sustained her in her search for meaning.

She found that she could lean on family members who had experienced similar tragedies, as did her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with the death of his child, also six years old, the same age as Charlotte.

The Angel in My Pocket

Though gut wrenching and sad, Forbes’ eloquently told story is one of hope. A lifeline to anyone experiencing any type of loss and struggling to find a way through it.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with Sukey Forbes about her memoir.

Why did you write the book?

I needed this book on my nightstand when my daughter died. There are many books out there that describe the state of grief, but what I didn’t find was a lifeline, a resource that said yes, this is horrible, and this is probably the worst life experience you will ever go through, but If you do the following things or take these steps, you can be OK. Eventually.

I needed to hear that. Grief is so painful that the thought of living in that stage of tenderness for the rest of my life was almost more than I could bear.

You do carry this grief with you always, and you are forever changed. But the books I read said “You are forever changed” but were so heavily laden with the negative that I never considered that I also might be changed in some very positive ways, if I paid attention to that, and that is what this book is about.

How long did you think about writing the book before you actually started?

Very early on in my grief it became clear to me that I was grieving in a different way than the way I perceived others grieving. I struggled with that. As mothers, we tend to beat ourselves up in any number of different ways — the way we parent, the way we feel, the way we move through the world — and I beat myself up a lot for the way I was grieving.

I found it helpful to keep a journal and write about it. I told myself that if and when I got to that endpoint, if I reached the goal of where I wanted to be, then I would turn it into a book.

How did your upbringing influence the way you grieved?

We all carry our life experiences in our proverbial backpack as we move through life, and my experience growing up in a puritanical, stiff upper lip, self-reliant household was that we were encouraged to not be emotional.

That stoicism actually helped me initially when I needed to be there for my two other children and my husband, but it also hindered my ability to feel. Because every time I felt myself descending into sorrow I had this horrible fear that I would become completely unglued, and that would be the end of it and I would never be able to find my way to any sense of sanity.

However, what also helped me was that there were a number of family members who were thinkers and seekers, looking for something. So I also felt encouraged to find my own way.

Malignant hypothermia — the genetic disorder that took Charlotte’s life — what have you learned about it?

Ten years later, there is not much more that is known. What has changed is the awareness of the symptoms not just in hospital emergency rooms but also general medical training. Charlotte’s presentation of malignant hypothermia is still, to this day, one of a handful of cases around the world. Usually the disorder is triggered under general anesthesia. In Charlotte’s case, it was non-triggered, and we know even less about that than the triggered kind.

In the early stages of your bereavement you decided to consult a medium. What compelled you to do this?

What drove me was the maternal desire to know that my daughter was OK. This really defined much of my early grieving. I didn’t have the architecture of a belief system in the same way many religions do, so I had to find my own way in terms of what happens when we die.

I couldn’t just accept that she was in heaven. That didn’t work for me spiritually or scientifically. When we are stretched thin and desperate we become more open-minded and more willing to take that extra leap. I made finding an answer my mission, looking outside of myself, and opened myself up to anything initially.

At first, It was equal parts skepticism and open mindedness. But I found it impossible to dismiss the notion that someone might be able to communicate with my daughter, and if that possibility existed, I felt that I really had to take a shot.

Remember, though, that my journey and the ways I sought comfort and found it are not necessarily the right way for everyone.

I was able to get the validation that I needed that Charlotte was OK. That was a great gift for me. It gave me enormous comfort.

Whether you’re dealing with a medium or clairvoyant or doctor or therapist or anybody else who has more knowledge in some areas than you, it’s important to keep your mind open.. I still don’t quite understand how it works. I myself have a scientific background and there is so much that we don’t know.

I like to think of it this way. There are sound frequencies we can’t hear but dogs and other animals can hear. These sounds still exist even though we can’t understand them or they don’t register with us. For some reason, there are some people who are able to see ahead, hear ahead, and have an extra ability to collect data points.

If the information they can give you is actually helpful and additive, I say why not take advantage of that.

You have such a colorful family tree. For example, there seems to be a family tradition of living and being comfortable with ghosts.

Many families, particularly those in New England who live in old houses with many generations and occupants from over the years, acknowledge and accept the existence of ghosts. In both our summer house and the home where I spent my childhood, I had personal experiences with ghosts or something that felt ghost-like to me, as did many other family members. There was certainly a family culture of “there’s more than that which we can see.”

You turned to your ancestors for answers, and they provided comfort to you through the grieving process.

There is a great tradition of looking backwards in our family and revering our antecedents, a tremendous sense of carrying ideas and thoughts through the family, not just in terms of my great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, but of the other family members as well.

When I began searching for the road map through grief, the first place I looked was to my family. We have a series of guest books that go back to the 1840s, and within days after Charlotte ‘s death I began to look for specific dates in history that involved the death of a family member. I needed information about how my family processed it publicly and privately.

So I did start to lean more heavily on those relatives who had experienced loss. Emerson had a son who died at the same age as Charlotte of a high fever, and I found a very strong kinship in him, not as Emerson the poet, but as a relative who lost a child and how that affected him.

Friends and family can be well meaning at a time like this but often say or do the wrong things. What is the best way for people to help?

Overwhelmingly, I learned how deeply kind people can be. But they often say thoughtless and cruel things without realizing it. At the top of the list is “I know exactly how you feel.” Even someone who has lost a child the same way can’t know exactly how you feel.

The best thing that anyone could say is I’m sorry, and ask about the child, not in terms of the way she died, but the way she lived.

Having people bring meals was very helpful. Also, very specific offers of tasks that they could do to help – not asking the open-ended “what can I do to help?” question that is hard to answer because bereaved people can’t think that clearly. It needs to be a specific offer of, for example, let me take your children to the park, what day works? Or, I am going to the super market, what do you need?

How do you continue to remember and honor Charlotte?

After her death, we set up a foundation in her name, with a mission statement that reads, “Through the eyes of a child, making the world a better place.” Once a year we sit down as a family and figure out, at the age Charlotte would be now, where would she want to donate this money? What would be interesting to her? It’s a way for us to think of her and keep her spirit alive as part of our family. And we have always remembered her through stories and on birthdays and holidays.

My relationship with her is different now. It has shifted from a mother-daughter relationship to more of an angel or spiritual guide. When I pray it’s less to God and more to Charlotte.

I still really struggle with the earthly bit. Her birthday is hands down the hardest day of the year for me. I still very much miss the little girl who was here, but the soul who has moved on, I feel a very strong connection to that.

What are your hopes for this book?

I believe what qualifies me to write this book is I’ve been there. I came through it. So I hope someone reading the book will think, “If she can do it, I can do it.” Sharing that part of the story of survival and resiliency is very important to me. It drove me to put pen to paper and ultimately get this book on someone’s nightstand who might benefit from it.

The book is a natural fit for people who have lost a child, but also for anyone who has struggled with any kind of loss and is trying to work through that. Through my experiences, I can share what worked for me and gave me back my life.

Sukey Forbes, The Angel in My Pocket

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of “The Angel in My Pocket” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below by July 15 and I will notify the winner then. Only US postal addresses are eligible.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin USA/Viking for an honest review. All opinions are my own. I did not receive any other compensation.

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Book Buzz: Good Morning, Mr. Mandela

I always knew that Nelson Mandela, or Madiba, as he was affectionately called, was a remarkable man: peace-seeking revolutionary, gifted leader, global citizen and tireless philanthropist.

That was his public persona. What was he like in private life?

Mandela

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela

In her intimate new memoir, Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant, protector and advocate, paints an honest portrayal of the man who became her boss and mentor, a man she called “Khulu,” or Grandfather.

The evils of apartheid.

A white Afrikaner, La Grange grew up in apartheid and never questioned it. She writes, “No person is born a racist. You become a racist by influences around you. And I had become a racist by the time I was thirteen years old.”

But fate changed the course of her life. As a young woman in her 20s, La Grange was hired as a typist in a government office. Shortly after Mandela became President, she was offered a position in his office.

Over the next 19 years her role grew from typist to secretary to spokesperson and one of Mandela’s most trusted and devoted associates. Upon his retirement, he requested that she remain in his services as an employee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Her life was devoted to him.

She describes their working relationship and world travels in great detail. As part of his entourage, she was responsible for the mundane travel arrangements as well as dealings with heads of state and celebrities. As Mandela relied on her more and more, she willingly gave up her personal life to be on call 24/7.

Some other things I learned:

Mandela insisted on calling Queen Elizabeth “Elizabeth,” much to the consternation of his aides, who thought the familiarity was inappropriate. Moreover, he once told her she looked like she had lost weight.

He loved Indian food, especially biryani.

He refused to read a newspaper that had already been opened. La Grange had to carefully remove the ad inserts inside without opening the paper; otherwise, he wouldn’t read it.

La Grange was, in her words, “p-ed off with the Spice Girls after I had learned that they had boasted about stealing toilet paper from Madiba’s official residence when they visited him when he was President.”

Not a puff piece.

I suspect the book will be controversial. La Grange is blunt about the missteps of several world leaders, especially those whom she perceived as showing disrespect to Mandela. She is also unsparing in her criticism of the Mandela family’s handling of the funeral and their poor treatment of Mandela’s widow.

I found many parts of the book captivating. It was fascinating to have a peak into the private life of someone so renowned. But the story got sluggish with too many details of their many trips and public appearances, and I found my interest lagging until the very end, when the pace picked up again.

La Grange’s paean to this extraordinary man shows that fame and humanity do not have to be mutually exclusive, that each of us has the capacity to love and forgive, and that we all have a responsibility to do our part to repair the world.

 

I am pleased to be able to give a copy of this book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and I will make a random selection.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela” by Penguin Random House for review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Bookman’s Tale

A romp through the centuries to unravel a Shakespearean mystery that could forever change the face of English literature. An appearance by the Bard himself. A cliffhanger embellished with intrigue, adventure, deceit and narrow escapes. A romantic story of deep and abiding love.

Have I piqued your interest, bibliophiles?

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s Tale

Written by Charlie Lovett, “The Bookman’s Tale” is subtitled “A Novel of Obsession” for good reason.

Peter Byerly is a recently widowed American antiquarian bookseller; that is, he deals in literary works that are centuries old. After the untimely death of his young wife, and finding it painful to be around the physical reminders of her, he flees the US for their second home — a cottage in the pastoral English village of Kingham — to deal with his grief and ultimately reignite his passion for old books.

While browsing in a bookstore in Wales, he pages through an 18th century tome he has taken off a shelf and finds tucked between the pages a small watercolor. To his astonishment, it is a portrait of his late wife.

How can this be? His wife died in 1994 and the portrait is clearly from the Victorian era.

Thus begins his obsessive search to uncover the truth.

More questions than answers.

As he gets more deeply entwined in this mystery of the painting, other questions arise. He learns of an artifact that may provide the resounding answer to doubts about Shakespeare’s authenticity: an artifact so valuable that others will stop at nothing to beat him to it, and his life is suddenly in jeopardy.

Conniving family members, rare books, forgery, murder, secret underground passageways, love and desire – all there. The story is also a fascinating look into the world of rare book selling and acquisition, a subject the author knows well, having been an antiquarian bookseller himself.

How does the painting relate to the artifact? You’ll have to read this to find out. Bouncing from late 16th century London to 1870s English countryside to modern day North Carolina, this engrossing tale kept me riveted, with many quirky characters, drama and twists and turns, and an ending full of surprises.

The underlying theme is one that all of us book lovers will relate to: the way we cherish books and the authors who write them, the thrill of holding a treasured book in your hand, the reverence we hold for literary masterpieces written hundreds of years ago that live on.

I also recommend “A Bookman’s Tale” as an excellent choice for book clubs, and Penguin has provided a wonderful online book club kit for your use..

A New York Times-bestseller, “The Bookman’s Tale” is now in paperback and I am delighted to offer a copy to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and a winner will be selected at random.

And good news, Lovett has a new book coming out this fall that I can’t wait to read. “First Impressions — a Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.” Doesn’t that sound delicious?

First Impressions

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Bookman’s Tale” from Penguin for review. No other compensation was received. This review reflects my opinions only.

 

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Book Buzz: Life by the Cup

Before you settle in for the delightful “Life by the Cup,” by Zhena Muzyka, pour yourself a cup of your favorite tea and savor each sip along with this touching, motivational memoir of a richly rewarding life.

Zhena pours her heart and soul into her story, which begins when her son Sage was born with severe medical issues. A single mom with barely enough money to squeak by, plus no insurance, she was determined to find a way to pay for Sage’s costly medical care. Buoyed by her background in aromatherapy and the wisdom imparted by her beloved Gypsy grandmother, Zhena turned to a lifelong passion –tea — and developed her own custom tea blends that she sold from a cart on the streets of her town in California.

From this modest tea cart grew Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, a successful, socially responsible multimillion-dollar company. Today, Zhena’s teas can be found in more than 10,000 stores nationwide.

Life by the Cup

Honored by many organizations for her professional achievements and commitment to fair trade business practices, Zhena speaks to women around the world about finding their purpose through starting a mission-based business or expanding an existing business.

“Life by the Cup” has already been acclaimed by USA Today as “one of the hottest books of the summer.” The book has also been optioned by Mark Wahlberg’s production company for a television series.

With a cup of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea coconut chai steaming fragrantly next to me, I chatted with Zhena about her book.

Your story begins with a double crisis: your newborn son’s illness and your dire financial straits. Nonetheless, you push ahead to start a business that you believe is your destiny. Where did the strength of your conviction come from?

It was my son. Before he was born, I was really selfish. Before you have a kid, it is all about you, but then all of a sudden your own needs disappear; you have someone else to focus on. I used to suffer from a bad eating disorder. Once Sage was born, that went away. Everything healed when I had him, because I focused on him. I needed to get over myself to save my son.

In those early years, how did you balance your business with the demands of a special needs baby?

Balance is an interesting thing. The way I balanced it was I loved my son constantly. I did everything I could to show him my adoration. When he was older he once told me that I was traveling a lot and he missed me, and why did I have to go? I told him that he could have a happy mommy 60% of the time or an unhappy mommy 100% of the time. This is our life; this is what we have to do. He understood that.

Sage is now a healthy 14 year-old and already has a job. He is in his third year of computer programming and wants to design computer games. I adore him. He’s an angel. He’s my boy.

Much of your inspiration for your business, and for life, came from your grandmother.

Yes, my Grandma Maria. She has been really strong in my energy field in the last couple of months, especially, with the book and my new baby. She passed away when I went to college and I felt guilty about that. I had gotten a full scholarship and was the first person in the family to go to college, but Grandma wanted me to stay home and marry a nice Ukrainian boy. Bless her heart. Grandma was the most generous, most resourceful person I have ever known. She was very nurturing, always feeding us and taking care of us, her sister, her church. She baked bread for everyone she knew. I blame her for my addiction to bread! My baby girl, Mia, is named for her.

Zhena’s Gypsy Tea became very successful. Yet when your company hit an important milestone — a million dollars in revenue — your father’s reaction left you deflated. What did you learn from that experience?

I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was devastating not to get my dad’s approval. My dad is still that way, but it’s not his fault. He has a different set of values, language, set of standards. For him, success means you have a standard job, a regular paycheck, pay your bills and your mortgage.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer, but he always said that writers don’t make any money, you’d better get a day job, you’ll never make it as a writer.

This was one of my karmic challenges, realizing I couldn’t get my dad’s approval from the means that I can gain my own approval. But what I learned from this is that there is no validation that is as satisfying as your own.

For me, I wanted to change the world, inspire women in their business practices. Through the personal work I have done, through meditation, I now come from a place where my satisfaction, my value comes from inside. It cannot come from outside. As we learn to regenerate from within, we gain true success.

Fair Trade was something you insisted on for your tea. Why was this so important to you?

I’ve been mission-driven since I was a little girl. I grew up in a farming community where I was surrounded by fields and a lot of my best friends’ dads were farmers. I would take the bus to school and see them hunched over in the fields, and still working when I came home from school. I was really moved and was conscious of how intense the work was for them. So I always had that inclination to think about worker’s rights, a consciousness of where my food came from, minimum wage, how workers were treated. Cesar Chavez was a big hero for me. When I started traveling to Sri Lanka and saw the bad conditions for tea workers in the fields, it hit home. Female workers often have high-risk pregnancies. There is no guarantee that they will have decent medical care or health insurance. I realized that had I not been born in America, had I been one of them, I might have lost Sage.

Each chapter in the book includes a life lesson that relates to your experiences. How did you arrive at such wisdom?

By living it. I feel like my life is a laboratory. I’ve got a flashlight and I’m on the trail. I’m like the explorer who’s coming back, reporting back from the trenches. My life is a big, exciting, wondrous experiment. As long as I can keep my curiosity going and not get tired or jaded, I can continue to learn life lessons and report back. Wisdom comes from being curious and having a desire to share. This is the book I was meant to write.

You write about your life so honestly. Was that easy to do?

Everything was hard. The first draft was a rant and I was railing against the medical system and the insurance companies that wouldn’t cover Sage. It was very cathartic. I got a lot of pent up anger and frustration out. But then I took a step back. This is not inspiring, I told myself. This is me dealing with my crap. My second draft was more generous.

Carve and carve and carve, that’s how the writing was. I carved out nuggets of wisdom that were coming out of the journals I have kept all my life. From them I can look back and say, ah, here is the lesson I learned.

What advice would you give to other women who dream of owning their own business but have meager resources, as you did?

I actually do a keynote for women on exactly this subject. It’s ten steps, like a birthing process, but I make it a business process.

First of all, they have to decide and commit. It was Goethe, I think, who had that great quote about commitment, that until you’re committed, the world can’t respond to you. Commitment is everything. And the honing of their inner voices — the most important thing women can do — listen and hone their inner voices and wisdom. With that, they can move mountains. Also, discernment. Such a big issue for women. We want everyone to love us and we want to provide and make people happy. At least for me, I’m a people pleaser and I get hurt if someone doesn’t like me or like my tea. Some people will never get your value, and that’s OK. Just like every book has an audience, every person has an audience, every idea has an audience, and not everyone is going to get it. At the beginning of the tea company, people would tell me said there are tea companies already, we don’t need another one, but I knew that no other tea company was like mine. I knew as long as I was committed and having a direct relationship to God and my faith, I could do it without other peoples’ help.

We women know in our core what we need to do but we’re scared to be so powerful and certain. We know if something’s right. It is our responsibility to listen to our inner voice and get it done.

Why did you write the book?

I always wanted to write a book, since I was six years old! But I could not make progress on writing for a long time. Not until I realized who I was writing for. It was for women who need encouragement. We’re only here to fulfill our potential — that is the meaning of life — and if I can help women find the strength to reach their potential, that is the purpose of the book. I know now that writing is part of my being, part of my soul.

Life by the Cup

 

You can meet Zhena and hear her tell a bit of her story in this book trailer.

 

I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of “Life by the Cup” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment for a chance to receive the book. And enjoy that cup of tea.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Life by the Cup” as well as sample teas. There was no other compensation. This review reflects my opinions only.

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Book Buzz: The Invention of Wings

Timing is everything, they say.

That’s what crossed my mind last week as I read the deeply absorbing new novel by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Invention of Wings.”

The Invention of Wings

As controversy swirled over LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments … and as the Jewish community observed Holocaust Remembrance Week … I was engrossed in a story about the daughter of a slave owner and her 35-year relationship with a slave.

This historical fiction was inspired by the real-life Sarah Grimké, a woman born into privilege in ante-bellum Charleston, who knew from an early age that slavery was wrong and grew up to become one of the first women and best-known abolitionists of her time.

It is not only a richly compelling story of relationships between complex people, but also a devastating reminder of what life was like before slaves were emancipated and this horrible time in our history came to an end.

We have evolved as a nation since then, but we still have work to do.

Racism Can Not Be Tolerated

Personally, I am elated that the NBA came out forcefully with severe sanctions against Sterling for his comments. But whether or not you agree with the NBA’s ruling, no one can deny that Sterling’s rant was racist and hate-based. There is no excuse for that. Ever.

Prejudice Has No Place in Society

Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust. and to remind all of us what can happen to civilized people when bigotry, hatred and apathy are allowed to flourish.

We say “never again.” But what does that really mean?

Racism, prejudice, genocide, other atrocities happen when we fail to take action.

In “The Invention of Wings,” Sarah’s voice was stifled, both literally and figuratively. Forced to watch the violence inflicted against slaves, she lost the ability to speak without stuttering. When she grew older and escaped the confines of her home, she ventured north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became enamored of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, a peace-seeking religious group that openly denounced slavery. And from there, she became a spokesperson for abolition.

The Philadelphia Quaker connection had special meaning for me. My children all attended Quaker schools. In fact, my son’s Commencement took place in the Arch Street Meeting House, the very site that played a prominent role in “The Invention of Wings.”

The Invention of Wings

The Arch Street Meeting House, Philadelphia, Pa.

To Eradicate Bigotry, We Need to Confront It

If there is a silver lining to the cloud of Sterling’s diatribe, it is the conversation that has sprung from it, and hopefully will continue.

And that’s why “The Invention of Wings” should be read and discussed. Never again, we say. Let us understand, and let us take action.

Fans of Sue Monk Kidd (you may have read her best-selling “The Secret Life of Bees”) and of historical fiction will not want to miss this book. It is a superb choice for book groups, and this detailed readers guide is a terrific resource to facilitate a discussion.

The Invention of Wings Book Club Kit

One of my lucky readers will receive a free copy of “The Invention of Wings.” Please leave a comment below and I will select a random winner.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of “The Invention of Wings” from Viking/Penguin for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation.

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My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My paternal grandmother lived to the age of 97 or so. We don’t know her exact birth date, because she didn’t know it. Born in Kiev in the late 1800s, she was one of six children whose parents were too busy scraping a living and avoiding pogroms to pay much attention.

Also, no official records were kept in their town. Much as I yearn to trace my ancestry, there is nowhere to search.

Grandma emigrated from Kiev when she was a teenager. She lived briefly on the lower east side of New York where she met her husband, also a Russian immigrant. Eventually they made their way to Pennsylvania to join other relatives.

I don’t know much more than that.

Grandma never wanted to talk about the past; it was too painful for her. Once, in a moment of largesse, she grudgingly answered a few of my questions but I had to keep it light. I asked if she ever went swimming and did she wear a bathing suit, and did she and her siblings fight like my brother and I did, that sort of thing.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My mother, grandmother, son and I celebrating his 2nd birthday.

I was always so curious about her life in the shtetl and as an immigrant. With the limited information I got first-hand, I’ve had to rely on historical documents, books, “Fiddler on the Roof” and my imagination.

When “Fiddler” first opened on Broadway, my parents wanted to take Grandma, thinking she would enjoy the musical about life in the shtetl. But she refused to go, saying there was no music or comedy in her life back then.

I’ve always been fascinated by the immigrants’ experience.

I think about the shock of entering a strange world and having to adapt, about leaving loved ones behind, about the odds of eking out a living, about raising American children and confronting the clash of old world vs. new world values.

This is why I adore the work of Amy Tan, who exquisitely spins the tales of immigrants and their children. Amy’s novels come from her Chinese heritage but her stories are universal. Her best-selling “The Joy Luck Club,” one of my favorites, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Can you believe that? Twenty-five years.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

It is a story about four Chinese mothers, recent immigrants to San Francisco, who get together each week to play mah jongg, eat dim sum and talk about their lives. They call themselves the Joy Luck Club.

Through their narratives, we get to know each of the mothers and learn about their pasts: the harrowing journey to America, the terrible conditions they endured in China, their resilience in the new world. And we get to know their daughters, smart, talented, impatient, headstrong – a lot like their mothers.

To commemorate this anniversary, Penguin Classics has created a reissue with a stunning new cover, on sale April 30. And I am delighted to be able to give away a copy, as well as a copy of the classic edition. Please leave a comment and I will select two random winners in the next few days.

My Grandmother and The Joy Luck Club

My grandmother, like the mothers in this book, was feisty and strong, no nonsense and devoted to her children. She didn’t play mah jongg but she did have a weekly poker game.

To say that I was inspired by this book in my own writing journey is an understatement. I can only dream of finding a voice, as Amy Tan did, to bring my stories to life.

Disclaimer: This review is 100% mine and I received no compensation.

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Book Buzz: The House at the End of Hope Street

Imagine a house at the end of an unobtrusive street, a house that is visible only to those who need it. A house that breathes and laughs, on whose walls hang shelves of thousands of books and portraits of famous women, paintings that come to life when conversation seems appropriate.

Picture a naive young woman who can’t seem to find her way through life’s bramble bushes, only to stumble upon this house of enchantment and healing.

Such is the setting for the whimsical “The House at the End of Hope Street,” by Menna Van Praag, a story that will surely win you over … as long as you leave reason behind.

House at the End of Hope Street

As is typical of novels of this genre – magical realism —  there is sensuality and sensory overload, dizzying aromas and flourishes of pageantry, an absence of real time, and ghosts that are a real part of the living world.

The protagonist, Alba Ashby, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, is struggling with a crisis that she is ill equipped to handle, and finds herself wandering aimlessly on the streets of Cambridge. Unwittingly, she lands on the doorstep of 11 Hope Street, where an older woman, Peggy, invites her in.

So begins a tale of self-discovery for Alba and two other visitors, Greer and Carmen, who are welcomed to stay in this house of refuge for 99 nights but no longer, and are assured that the house would give them what they needed to move on.

The women, each one experiencing a difficulty of some sort, find solace in the quiet comfort the house offers. Best of all, this is a feminist’s dream house, where conversations are sparked among a bevy of star-studded personalities whose portraits adorn the walls. Florence Nightingale and George Eliot, for example, are there, as are Vivien Leigh and Vanessa Bell and Agatha Christie. Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker chatter on as they offer writing advice to an attentive Alba:

“Not bad,” Dorothy says. “You have potential.”

“She’s overly critical,” Sylvia says. “You have a natural flair, but you need to be bolder. Your writing is too tentative, you care too much for the reader –“

If you are a fan of the works of Alice Hoffman, Yann Martel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” remains my favorite book ever), Isabel Allende or any other writer of magical realism, or if you enjoy losing yourself in a great read, or if you are a romantic … you will fall in love with this inventive and charmingly written tale.

I am thrilled to be able to offer a copy of this book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below, and one of the commenters will be chosen randomly.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of The House at the End of Hope Street for review. There was no other compensation.

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I Want to Be Alone with These Women

Excuse me while I clean up the coffee I have spewed on my computer screen.

Let this be fair warning: put down the drinks while reading “I Just Want to Be Alone,” a collection of humorous essays written by some of the funniest writers around, and compiled by Jen of People I Just Want to Punch in the Throat (hilarious in its own right, by the way).

I just want to be alone

Had these humorists been around when I was deep in poop and drippy popsicles myself, when my kids were sucking the very life out of me in their persistent but adorable persistent way, I might have gotten through it with much less stress.

stress free and alone

If laughter is the best medicine, I would have been a very healthy mom.

I Just Wanted to Be Alone

I recalled some of my own funny-later-but-not-at-the-time stories, for example, When Daddy Burned the Brownies and When Daughter #2 Scribbled Magic Marker on the Back of My Mother’s Leather Chairs. Also, there is “DW,” a term my children and I still use, which stands for Dad’s World, an imaginary place where everything that Dad says makes sense.

I laughed at every one of these well-written stories, and several have me smiling still.

My Obnoxiously Skinny Husband, written by Lynn Morrison of The Nomad Mom Dairy.I would not have realized that I left the book open to this page if not for a question from my husband later that day.

“Are you reading about someone with a skinny husband?” he asked, smiling knowingly.

Hello! This is my life, Lynn Morrison. I’ve got a husband who can eat anything — including a piece of chocolate cake every day — and has weighed the same SINCE HIGH SCHOOL.

And me? As a lifelong eater of carbs and struggler of weight, I can simply read a recipe and feel my pants get tighter. If I leave a comment on a food blog I’ll gain a pound. My husband can eat whatever he wants and not gain an ounce. Sigh.

I think the actual spewing of the above-referenced coffee occurred  when I read That’s Beans, Bitch! by Lisa Newlin of Lisa Newlin … Seriously? One of my children was so picky that she ate a total of five unrelated food items for the first 18 years of her life. I’m one of those mothers who went to great lengths to hide vegetables in other foods, but it was kind of hard to mask pureed spinach in macaroni and cheese.

The True Love Story by A.K. Turner, about meeting a guy on vacation and falling in lust love and moving cross country to live with him and buying a mattress with your mother along … I was rooting for this couple to make it but you’ll have to read the story to find out.

Raquel D’Apice from The Ugly Volvo wrote Project Run Away and described her date’s questionable wardrobe choices with amazingly familiar precision. My husband, once my date, was clueless about clothes until, lucky for him, we became a couple and I was able to show him the way around a department store.

Funny memories of dating came back to me when reading Stacey Hatton’s The Perfect Man.com. Stacey, of Nurse Mommy Laughs, tried Internet dating for a while  and may not have walked away with a husband, but sure got some great material for a story.

Because I finished this anthology hungry for more, I was relieved to find out that there is a Volume I of this series that I haven’t read.,”I Just Want to Pee Alone.” and I can’t wait to dive into it for more giggles.

Fingers crossed that the dynasty continues and there will be a Volume III.

“I Just Want to be Alone” is available in paperback or for your Kindle

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For the Love of Basketball

Basketball is on my mind this week, due to a confluence of three things:

  • March Madness starts tomorrow and my house is abuzz. We are a basketball-crazy family and we can’t wait for the first tipoff. Note to self: fill out the bracket today.

love of basketball dunk shot

  • My daughter was home for a visit and took advantage of the above-freezing weather to shoot some hoops. I watched her, overcome with nostalgia for the days when I cheered her on from the bleachers. I still miss those days.

A Story of Courage

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics programs. By the time this law became mandated, Pat had endured years of frustration and isolation as a girl who just wanted to compete on the same level as boys, and was told she couldn’t.

But with the passage of Title IX, Pat was the first female to be awarded an athletic scholarship in Illinois, and went on to become the  first female player to score 1,000 points at Illinois State University. She is one of the first Women’s Professional Basketball League draftees and female inductees in the Hall of Fame at Illinois State.

Although Pat and I have not yet met face-to-face, I have come to know her well through her blog and the blogging group we both belong to. The story of her career has captivated me from the very start, but I have also admired Pat for her character, her devotion to family and friends, and her kindness.

As the granddaughter of Eureka College’s legendary Coach Mac, Ralph McKinzie, Pat grew up with basketball in her DNA. But it was through sheer will and advances in women’s rights that her dreams of competing were realized.

Her success on the collegiate level led to a spot in the fledgling Professional Women’s Basketball League where her desire to play was thwarted by both injury and injustice.

After a car accident ended her playing career in Europe at the age of 25, Pat turned to coaching and teaching and has inspired countless young women and men to never give up pursuing their dreams.

Pat’s story is one of persistence and courage, a story that transcends athletics and can be applied to any life challenge. Who should read this book? To quote her, “Anyone coaching an athlete. Anyone playing ball. Anyone loving a game. Anyone raising a daughter. Anyone chasing a dream.”

My daughter likes to to shoot hoops now and then. But had she aspired to more,  and had she possessed the talent, gender inequity in the sport would not have held her back.

love of basketball

Thank you, Pat, and your trailblazing team mates, for helping to set the course for generations of female athletes.

shoot a basket

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