Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart

Source: Gift from LibraryThing SantaThing
Paperback, 240 pages
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Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is part travel, cultural immersion, and marital memoir.  El Salvador, the country of her husband’s birth, is seismologically and politically volatile, much like a marriage can be as we seek similarities and rarely understand the differences between us when we first begin a life together.  Kephart speaks of her husband’s country as someone who has never traveled to Central America before and only knows about the country from the horrific political turmoil and devastating earthquakes she has seen on the news.  She begins the novel very much on the outside of her husband’s life before he went to the United States for college and married her, living a suburban, quiet, American life.

“When I married my husband, I married into all of this.  I married a legacy, traditions, danger.  I married a man who is not at home unless he’s standing in the shadows of his grandfather’s land or asserting the privileges of a jeep on jungle roads.  My husband isn’t home here, where we together live, and yet years would go by before I could begin to understand, before my imagination would let me close to where he’d come from.”  (page 10-11)

For a woman that has lived a very privileged American life — for that’s what she says — her experiences traveling were limited to very advanced economies, rather than the more emerging markets in Central America, which have had a harder time coming together and staying together socially and politically.  Speaking only English, as many Americans do, arriving in a country where Spanish is spoken in rapid, unending bursts with little time to pause and translate, Kephart illustrates her loneliness and her separateness when she perches in a tree and merely watches from afar as her husband reconnects with his home and his family.  This separateness is partly her own making because of her almost desperate need to be part of his family in all ways, but also her desire to pull him back into the world of their American life so that she can be more comfortable.

However, this is not just a memoir about a marriage; it is also a memoir about coming to love a country and a culture that at first seems so foreign and incomprehensible to her.  As she sets out to tell her son about his father’s life before America and his heritage, Kephart learns that there is love in the strangest of places — places that were once alien, places that made her feel separate and foreign herself.

What’s beautiful about the memoir is that it doesn’t focus on the rifts or the arguments or the silences these differences between her and her husband may have caused, it is focused on a woman immersing herself in the culture, a history, a people and its coffee.  Through its history — political and otherwise — Kephart paints a picture of a country that struggles with its own land and its own people to find itself.  El Salvador comes alive in her hands, becomes a living, breathing being with its beauty and darkness, and while there are frightening times of civil unrest and bandits, Kephart is huddled in the family bubble — cradled in their acceptance of her.

“It was an accident, Bill’s falling in love with me.  It was a risk, binding himself up in a marriage to an American girl, a suburban girl so entirely naive that she thought she’d be somehow big enough to hold him.”  (page 127)

Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is about love and learning to love even the strangest parts of ourselves and our spouses, it’s a love that embraces everything despite our initial fears and misgivings and misunderstandings.  Love should be big enough not only to conquer all, but also to breed acceptance for what we do not understand or know about ourselves and those we love.  Love is an expansion of who and what we are; it is the exploration and embracing of what is outside of us and bringing that into ourselves.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009, and a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. She teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased for Kindle
eBook, about 34 pages
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Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart illustrates how the death of the person we’re closest to — oftentimes our mother — sends us out into the world, looking for answers or at least some hope.  Letting go is never about forgetting, while our loved ones may not physically be present any more and all we have is memory — a tricky thing indeed — we have the ability to seek out meaning and hope in the miracles around us.  Anyone who has read Kephart’s books before knows that she loves birds and what they can mean and represent in all their incarnations, but this obsession with birds clearly began with the loss of her mother.

“I work in a square room, watch the world (a garden like an archipelago, a museum of flowering trees) through two wide windows.  I work early in the day, a bare bulb turned on, and I work alone.  But in the months after my mother passed away, much too early, the finches came.  They were still wearing their winter coats.  They favored the crack of dawn.  They held themselves up with the acrobatics of their wings, touched their beaks to my wide windows, and hammered.”

Kephart ties together the memories of her mother’s accident and misdiagnosed and re-diagnosed illness — without naming it because it is unnecessary to do so — with the passionate love of birds held by Genevieve Estelle Jones and Katrina van Grouw.  Like these early scientists, Kephart is exploring the enigma of birds — not so much how they continue to fly and what their eggs and nests look like — but how those former dinosaurs continue to capture the imagination and offer solace to those not too busy to pause.

Readers could imagine glorious photos or illustrations of birds sweeping across the pages, along with Kephart’s words as she remembers the best parts of her mother and the best parts of herself.  Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart strives to give all those who grieve the hope that there is peace, a peace that we can live with and thrive with, as long as we remember to breathe and be alive.

***This ebook memoir was published by the new venture SheBooks, which published short ebooks for women, by women.  Check out what Beth Kephart had to say.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.  Check out her blog.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Source: Borrowed from Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 460 pages
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Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir about his young life and his coming of age.  The memoir does not gloss over the hardships he and his family face, nor does it leave out the bad things McCourt did as a child to survive.  It’s heartbreaking to see how a father can shun his responsibilities in favor of alcohol, while leaving his wife little recourse but to beg for charity on a weekly and daily basis just to feed her young children.  Angela, his mother, becomes a shadow of herself with the trials they face, especially as some of their youngest children perish from starvation and disease in America and even at home in Ireland.  Beginning in America, Angela meets a young man and falls in love, but he’s not the man she thinks he is and soon discovers that he is plagued by the need for drink.  Their hardships continue even as they are sent back to Ireland by relatives in the New World.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all.  It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.  Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”  (page 9)

Living in a time when women were not allowed to work and when men were not expected to hand over their wages to their wives or to have their wives with them when they got paid — because his father takes the wages when he’s paid and eventually comes home with nothing — becomes a heavy burden on the family.  This leaves his wife to beg the grocer for credit so she can buy necessities for her family, and in Ireland it is worse because with a husband from the North, he’s unable to get a job in the first place.  Even when he does get a job, he often loses it by drinking late into the night and then sleeping in the next day.  These circumstances make it difficult for her and the family to stay healthy and even survive.

Although readers will be surprised at how long this family is able to survive in spite of the deaths and the starvation, they’ll also be surprised at the depth of their own loyalty and love for their father.  Rarely is anything said by the children about their father, though the mother surely speaks her mind about his penchant for the pint and his irresponsibility — to no avail.  McCourt pulls no punches about telling the darkest moments of his early life, including the beatings he took from teachers and family members.  There is still a sense of hope in him even in the most dire of circumstances.

Whether all of the things that happened in the memoir are fact or just his remembrances, there is clearly an atmosphere of struggle that has driven him to make the most of the circumstances he’s given.  He strives to do his best in school, to care for his family as best he can in the absence of his father, and to make something of himself in spite of all he must battle against.  Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is dark and hopeless at times, but there is the light of humor and hope between the lines.  This is a memoir that reads more like a novel.

About the Author:

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, “Angela’s Ashes,” won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. Times Book Award. In 2006, he won the prestigious Ellis Island Family Heritage Award for Exemplary Service in the Field of the Arts and the United Federation of Teachers John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education.

This is my 4th and final book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2013.

Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased from Hooray for Books
Paperback, 252 pages
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The best teachers are those that give of themselves freely to their students and their craft, and with reference books available on various ways to write, what to write, and when to write, many will glance at yet another writing reference and dismiss it out of hand. What does that mean? That those people are fools — for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart, released today, is not a reference, it is a memoir about writing memoir (marking a 6th memoir from her). It is a reference guide written from the perspective of a teacher and writer on how to approach a genre riddled with scandal and debunked by naysayers.  Not only does she peel back the layers that can and should be part of memoir creation, but she also peels back her own experiences and perspective to shed light on the hard work memoirists should expect of themselves.

“Teaching memoir is teaching vulnerability is teaching voice is teaching self.”  (page xii)

“Some of the best memoirs are built not from sensate titillations but from the contemplation of universal questions within a framed perspective.” (page 10)

She shares her favorite places, her favorite music, her favorite memoirs, and her students’ work, and she begs that anyone interested in writing memoir do it because the story must be told and is relate-able to someone outside the self.  Writing the genre requires the writer to be as honest with herself as she can be and to fill the gaps in memory with facts from documents or cross-referencing conversations and moments with those that share the memory.  Reading this reference memoir is like getting to know Kephart on a personal level, but it’s also about getting to know the writer inside you — the one that wants to write the book but doesn’t know where to start.  Although this advice is geared toward those who wish to write their own personal histories, there is sage advice for other writers — fiction writers struggling with what tense to put their book in, for example.

On Mark Richard’s memoir House of Prayer No. 2, she says, “He does it because, in this case, the you is more intimate, more forgiving, more moving than the I ever will be.  It enables Richard to say things about himself and his ungodly circumstance that would be otherwise unthinkable.”  (page 46)

Readers and writers will love the explanations, which are peppered with examples from other writers’ memoirs to demonstrate why certain forms and styles are selected, because at Kephart’s core is a dedicated teacher.  It is these dedicated people who write the best reference books because they put more of themselves and more of their passions into writing them, making them innately more engaging and interesting than other reference guides that merely spout out bullet point advice and little else.  Kephart not only references the memoirs she loves, pulling apart the choices authors made in creating them, but also the ways in which she gets students (and now the readers of her book) to think about memoir and their own lives.  Writing exercises that not only focus on early memories, but also the backgrounds of photos (which can be like those fuzzy memories that have little detail) and poems (from some of my favorites like Ted Kooser).

“A way of eating passes away with your mother.  How you held the sugar on your tongue.  How you stirred the crumbled cheese into the oiled broth.  How you savored the sweet grit of flour in the gravy pot, and the thick pink of the beef, and the heated pear with its nutmeg top, and the brownies with the confectioner’s crust.  You will dig through the freezer at your father’s house, mad for one last frozen roll of checkerboard cookie dough, one Tupperware of thick red sauce, one crystallized slice of eggplant parmesan.  You will burn your fingers with the cold.  Your mother’s cooking will be gone.”  (page 92)

But at all costs, she reminds us that “writing is a privilege,” and that privilege should NEVER be taken lightly.  Effectively, she dispels the myths about memoir, explains what memoir is not, and ensures readers and writers look deeper than the memories and events in their lives to uncover the recurring themes, which could provide insight to others and generate empathy, if not understanding and connection.  More importantly, she reminds readers that memoirs by-and-large leave huge chunks of people’s lives off the page, despite the journaling, writing, and researching done into every aspect.  Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart is an intelligent, passionate reference that not only guides writers on how to tackle memoir writing, but also inspires them to read the memoirs of others and to learn from, as well as advising them on how to live with openness and curiosity.

***I don’t have too many writing reference books because I only keep the ones that speak to me and offer the best advice, and each of those is chock full of sticky flags, and Kephart’s book is going on that shelf.***

Also, check out how this book made me almost cry when reading it.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper, Lindsay Harrison

Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper and Lindsay Harrison is a great memoir for the fans of The Young and the Restless soap opera and Katherine Chancellor.  She was born in 1928 to part-Cherokee parents, and was the youngest of three children.  My mother has watched the show since before I was born, and I remember the fateful episode in which Mrs. C. drove her husband off a cliff in a drunken stupor — I was one.  Yes, this show has been in my life for a very long time.

Cooper infuses her memoir with honesty, but also refuses to tell stories that are not her to tell.  She may be harsh on her ex-husband, but once you read about his antics, it’s hard not to see why she’d still not be his biggest fan.  However, she does admit that her relationship with her husband did beget her some wonderful and talented children — Corbin Bernsen, Collin, and Caren.

“I don’t care who you are, you don’t get more than one chance to betray me, and as this book should make apparent, I have a very long memory.”  (page 13)

There is some kissing and telling, but it’s not graphic, and its touching for the most part.  Cooper also offers some great insights into the soap opera business and movie/TV business.  One touching moment in the book is when she talks of her dear friend, Raymond Burr — a WWII veteran who survived the Battle of Okinawa and was awarded a Purple Heart!  She and Ray had a great friendship and there is a fun story about the time she “borrowed” his trophy just before he headed to Japan to meet with troops at an army base.

Cooper is frank in her stories and her memories — or lack there of — about events, and yes, there are moments where she doesn’t explain how she met certain famous actors and actresses, like Grace Kelly, but her open heart and charitable spirit shine through in how she cares for her family and others.  I loved the story of how she and her young daughter witnessed a car accident and stopped to help.  Her daughter was scared, but Cooper explained to her that they had to help if someone was in need.  It was their duty to do so.  We need more parents like this and more citizens who care!

Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper and Lindsay Harrison shows that no matter your age, you are not done living yet and that there is more love, devotion, and duty to give.  Cooper’s memoir offers some great insight about the Y&R, Hollywood, and family.  Highly recommended for fans of the show and for those who are interested in learning about old Hollywood.

About the Author:

Jeanne Cooper has earned the love of soap-opera fans for her long-running role as Katherine Chancellor on CBS’s The Young and the Restless. She received back-to-back Daytime Emmy Award nominations as Outstanding Leading Actress in a Drama Series in 1989, 1990, and 1991. In 1993, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in recognition of her many years in show business.

This is my 89th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


Thirty Days With My Father: Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D.

Thirty Days With My Father:  Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D., is the result of a 30-day project Presley undertook to get to know her father and his Vietnam War experiences after not relating for more than a decade, and she got much more than she expected.  Alternating between conversations wither her father and memories written down in her journal — the idea of her therapist — Presley relives parts of her own past just as her father does when speaking of Vietnam and what happened there.

Delmer Presley was drafted into the Vietnam War and never once thought about running off and dodging the draft, and he was a member of Americal Division, First Battalion, Sixth Infantry, referred to as the Gunfighters.  He entered the war following the Tet Offensive and came back a changed man.  While Presley’s book talks about his experiences as they were related to her during phone conversations and other encounters with her father, the memoir focuses mainly on Christal Presley’s intergenerational PTSD symptoms and childhood as it relates to those war memories.

Living in constant fear due to unpredictable behavior and other outside forces can cause heightened awareness fueled by adrenaline.  In the case of warriors and soldiers, this constant state of awareness can be hard to shake even when the unpredictability of the situation is removed and soldiers are sent home.  Consequently, the families that these soldiers return to find that their loved ones are altered, and in some cases, these situations can become very volatile and lead to unintended consequences, such as families subject to verbal abuse and more.

“‘I just didn’t consider those people human.  I never saw a Vietnamese before in my life, and I hated them.  We didn’t even call them Vietnamese back then.  Called them Charlies, dinks, and gooks.  That’s all I knew.  They taught us that.  I was trained not to see them as human.  The government can say whatever they want, but they trained us that way.  It hurt me more to see a dog or cat dead than them Vietnamese.  The government likes young boys who ain’t got no sense.  Easier to train, easier to brainwash that way.'”  (page 59 ARC)

The relationship between father and daughter always has been fragile.  The tentative nature with which Christal makes her calls to her father and feels him out before she asks each question is how readers would imagine any conversation to go given the years of silence between them, but particularly given traumatic nature of her upbringing.  Thirty Days With My Father:  Finding Peace From Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, Ph.D., is about finding yourself amidst the chaos of family life, particularly a family life full of baggage, and about forgiveness for yourself and your family.  One of the most surprising and astonishing memoirs I’ve read in a long while.  It will have you re-evaluating your own conceptions about your childhood and how to repair relationships that have been damaged.

About the Author:

Christal Presley received her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in English Education from Virginia Tech.  She received her Ph.D in Education from Capella University. She is a former intern at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, and spent seven years teaching middle and high school English in Chatham and Danville, Virginia.

Her first book, Thirty Days with My Father:  Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD, will be published by Health Communications, Inc. in November 2012.

Christal grew up in Honaker, Virginia, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the founder of United Children of Veterans, a website that provides resources about PTSD in children of war veterans. In her spare time, you can find Christal playing with her dogs, tending to her chickens, and gardening.

***IF you would like to win a copy, leave a comment on this post about your interest by Nov. 21, 2012, at 11:59 PM EST***

This is my 80th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day

Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day is a memoir about a young girl who wants to grow up fast in the late 1960s, that she seriously starts looking for a husband at age 12.  She’s completely unhappy with her family life, particularly her mother, and with school.  The story spends a great deal of time in the first section examining the numerous boys that Day dated and tried to have sex with, but it also spends a lot of time on her frame of mind for this behavior.  She believes that marriage will set her free from the confines of her own family, allowing her not only to become a mother, but also make her own decisions.  In addition to love and finding a way out of the home, Day is a typical teen in her need to break out of conformity and make her mark, which in her case meant breaking up the monotonous school uniform with her own style and obtaining a switchblade to make her feel more adult-like.

“Nevertheless, I kept mine, which was tucked safely behind my math and history books in my locker.  I wasn’t about to hand it over to any cop.  It was a symbol of who I was.  It meant I didn’t play by the rules; it meant I made up my own rules.  It meant I was a rebel.  It meant I was bad.”  (Page 4 ARC)

When Day finally marries, she finds it is not all romance and roses, but she has to think about more than herself now that she has a daughter, Liana.  In a way the first portion of the book is a good illustration of why teens need observant parents in their lives — to teach them what is right and what is wrong, but also to guide them down the best path.  Day seems to have learned some lessons in love the hard way.  She also learned some lessons about motherhood and how far she was willing to go for money.

Part one looks back at Day’s teenage years, while the second portion of the memoir is a series of self-contained stories from her life as an adult, struggling to gain a college education after her struggle for a high school diploma as well as her struggle to keep a job and be treated fairly by her employers.  Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day is an engaging look at what it was like for a young woman with big dreams of equality to live in the 1960s.  Day’s memoir is a stark look at family life, alcoholism, rebellion among teens, and so much more.  There is a cultural shift, but also an evolution within Day as she takes on her self-imposed struggles in love and motherhood.

About the Author:

Lucille Lang Day has published creative nonfiction in The Hudson Review, the Istanbul Literary Review, Passages North, the River Oak Review, the Willow Review, and many other journals. She is the recipient of the Willow Review Award in Creative Nonfiction and a Notable Essay citation in Best American Essays. She is also the author of a children’s book, Chain Letter, and eight poetry collections and chapbooks, including The Curvature of Blue, Infinities, and The Book of Answers. Her first poetry collection, Self-Portrait with Hand Microscope, received the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. She received an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and then an M.A. in zoology and a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of California, Berkeley. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for seventeen years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive children’s museum in Berkeley.

This is my 72nd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes (I reviewed his novel Matterhorn) reads less like a linear memoir than it does a measured stream of consciousness attempting to explain the role of a soldier, the best way to protect that soldier and his family from the guilt and trauma experienced in war, and the possible consequences of using more technology to wage war and remove ourselves from the actual acts of war.  As well as how that removal changes the psyche’s view of war — making it more impersonal and thus more damaging.

Marlantes goes back in forth in time and purpose, but the key is to follow the chapter headings, like “Guilt,” to understand what the focus of the chapter will be no matter what time period in his life he is speaking of.  He’s clearly studied Carl Jung and other philosophies, including those of eastern nations, on his journey to find out how to best deal with his conflicting emotions of triumph and horror as a Marine who fought in Vietnam, and he often warns that without guidance when soldiers come home, they can spiral out of control as they lose the boundaries between the war life and their normal life.

“Death becomes an abstraction, except for those at the receiving end.  We must come to grips with consciously trying to set straight this imbalance of modern warfare.  What is at stake is not only the psyche of each young fighter but our humanity.”  (page 19)

“To be effective and moral fighters, we must not lose our individuality, our ability to stand alone, and yet, at the same time, we must owe our allegiance not to ourselves alone but to an entity so large as to be incomprehensible, namely humanity or God.”  (page 144)

Using examples from his own combat experiences, which are eerily similar to those presented in Matterhorn‘s fictional account, Marlantes outlines possible differences in loyalty and how high that loyalty must be in order for “right” decisions to be made in war, but he also acknowledges that all humans lie and that lying can serve many purposes, especially in a war that applauds achievement only through body counts.  The dichotomy of humans is pronounced in war as they attempt to navigate through the jungle or the foreign terrain to complete missions without laying unnecessary waste to themselves or the enemy.  Ethical warriors are just one part of the discussion, but mostly Marlantes is concerned with preparing today’s soldiers for the psychic and emotional break they will experience with their spirituality and their ties to society.

Mixed with philosophical discussions and examples from such texts as The Odyssey and the Bhagavad Gita, Marlantes strives to pinpoint the natural inclination of the warrior spirit in men and women and the dire consequences of suppressing that spirit or denying its existence.  While he suggests that the spirit should be tempered and praised, it also should not be allowed to spiral out of control — with a focus on creating balance.  In many ways, there is a deep Buddhist sense in his memoir about creating balance and eliminating ego’s perspective on justice in favor of what is truly right for humanity not just a particular nation or belief system.

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes is one man’s perspective on his experiences in Vietnam and what those experiences taught him.  He talks about what he thinks could improve soldiers in the field as well as when the fighting is over, helping them to integrate back into society with less bumps along the way — less suicides, less drug and alcohol abuse, and less violence.  For those looking for a memoir that offers more than just war stories about missions and lost friends, Marlantes provides an introspective analysis of the pride he felt in killing the enemy as well as the deep sorrow.

About the Author:

A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His debut novel, Matterhorn, will be published in April 2010 by Grove/Atlantic.

I’m Just Sayin’! by Kim Zimmer and Laura Morton

I’m Just Sayin’!: Three Deaths, Seven Husbands, and a Clone! My Life on Guiding Light and Beyond by Kim Zimmer and Laura Morton is as spontaneous as Reva Shayne was on Guiding Light, and while most of the memoir is linear in nature, there are moments where the flashbacks are a bit out of sequence — though never hard to follow.  Zimmer pulls no punches with her memoir and does not sugarcoat anything that happened in the latter years of Guiding Light, which experienced severe budget cuts and went downhill in terms of quality where production was concerned.  On the flip side, she’s also willing to admit her mistakes and allowed her temper to get the best of her when she should have tried a more diplomatic approach when story lines and production were falling by the wayside.

Even more interesting were the early years in which she made some tough decisions about college and acting, when she met her soul mate (A.C. Weary), and when she put her family first and left Guiding Light the first time.  She shares some acting techniques she learned, including substitution in which an actor uses real life images and memories as stand ins for the characters’ current situations.  Zimmer didn’t find this effective, and in fact, found it very distracting.  One of the most interesting things in the book was that she took the bus to the studio rather than have a car pick her up or driver herself to work in the early days, which some of her co-stars found odd.  (I applaud her for using public transportation!)

“A.C. and I joked about getting married any number of times, but one of us always managed to change the subject.  If memory serves me correctly, in the summer of 1980, we were in our teeny-tiny kitchen making dinner when we started talking about having a baby.  I believe I said I’d love to have a kid but I wanted to be married first.  Hint, hint, wink, wink!

A.C. said something like, ‘Are you asking me to marry you?’

I said, ‘If you want me to have your babies, then yes, I’m asking you to marry me!'”  (Page 42)

While some may think that Zimmer is a diva, she certainly is in the sense that she’s talented and passionate about her work.  She talks a lot about fighting for her characters and the show, which she thought of more like a family — and in many ways was more attached than probably some other actors would be to their roles and television shows.  Her resolve and determination helped Reva Shayne’s character grow, but unfortunately, the show itself was not something should could have saved on her own.  Becoming so attached to the show and her character ultimately weighed too heavily on Zimmer and caused her to make some choices she might not have otherwise.

I’m Just Sayin’!: Three Deaths, Seven Husbands, and a Clone! My Life on Guiding Light and Beyond by Kim Zimmer and Laura Morton is not only about acting and her family, but about a passion for her job that became all-consuming and led her astray for a while.  But lessons are always available when people make mistakes, even celebrities.  Zimmer’s memoir seems to have been cathartic for her in that it helped her assess herself and her role as wife, mother, and actress.  She’s candid and funny, but never overly apologetic.  A great memoir for those looking for behind-the-scenes shenanigans, serious acting business, and life-work balance decisions.

***On another note***

My husband and I watched Guiding Light together, and Jonathan and Reva’s story line was one that we loved watching unfold as he was the son she had left behind.  We loved the dynamic of these characters, and it was great to learn about the audition between Zimmer and Tom Pelphrey, which was too funny.  The chemistry between the characters was superb. Another of my favorite pairings was Reva with Jeffrey!  I loved their “What the hell” nature and the jokes and genuine fun time they seemed to be having.  It was so refreshing.  On the flip side, I loved Harley and Gus on the show, a relationship that was torn asunder by the writers and angered me beyond imagination.

It was hard for me to watch the production quality of this show decline, and my mother would call and ask me what the heck they were doing to our show.  The shaky cameras and the outside scenes in which you couldn’t hear the dialogue too well and the overpowering music.  Like Zimmer, I was very attached to these characters, and in many ways they were real….I was sad to see the characters of Springfield go.

About the author:

Four-time Emmy® award winner Kim Zimmer is a veteran television actress. In 1984, she joined the cast of Guiding Light, and stayed with the series for over two decades. She and her husband live mostly in New Jersey with their three children.


This is my 65th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney

As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney is an epistolary memoir in that letters from Sweeney’s father to her mother are shared with several sections of explanation from Sweeney, herself.  After just 11 days together, Jack and her mother corresponded for a year and a half through letters as he went off to help stabilize the Pacific following WWII.  He wrote 45 letters to her mother over seven months in a oddball courtship that showcase her father’s wit and humor as well as his constant devotion.

In many ways the correspondence allowed the young lovers to get to know one another more intimately without the awkward face-to-face interactions.  They learned about their religious beliefs and their thoughts on infidelity when she tells Jack of her boss’ infidelity with one of the dental assistants.  Emma found her father’s letters to her mother after her mother’s death in the back of a drawer, but she never knew him in person as he died before she was born.

“I never told anyone of my discovery that day.  We lived in a big house, and, with twelve brothers and sisters, my things had a way of disappearing.  I put the letter and the photograph in the small cedar box I kept hidden under my bed.”  (page 4)

Jack was a funny man who liked to play cards and talk to his Bebe as much as he could, begging her for photos and tales of her trips to Florida from Coronado, California.  He made jokes, he took on personas, and he laughed at himself.  He wooed her with humor and honesty, and through his devotion, he garnered her love, which she eventually confessed in a letter to him, or at least that is what Jack says in one of his letters back to her.  What’s missing is her mother’s side of the letters and some explanations as to what Jack is referring to on occasion, but there are notations about dates and times in the letters that clarify some of the timeline.

However, this memoir is not only about the love that endures even through space and time, but also the discovery of a daughter of her true father and mother at time when they were youthful and full of hope.  As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney is in a way a love letter from a daughter to a father.

About the Author:

Emma Sweeney is the author of several gardening books as well as a literary agent based in New York.  She formed her own agency in 2006 and has had five New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 New York Times best seller, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  She is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and the Women’s Media Group, where she served as its president in 2003. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in English Literature.  She divides her time between New York City and Rhinebeck, New York.

If you’d like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment on this post with an email address.  Deadline to enter is July 20, 2012; This is open GLOBALLY.

This is my 49th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is the memoir of one college professor’s journey through Latin America discussing Jane Austen’s books with book clubs and having a misadventure of her own that changes her life.  Her enthusiasm for the trip is infectious.

“Was I nervous about spending a year away from family and friends, trying to function in a foreign language I had a tenuous grip on while convincing several dozen people in six different countries to join me for book groups? Hell, yeah.  Was I excited about the trip anyway? Hell, yeah.” (page xiii ARC)

She decides to discover if Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and Emma can carry the same sway with Latin and South Americans that it does with Americans and Europeans.  She visits not only Mexico and Guatemala, but also Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay, and she finds that underneath all the stereotypes and prejudices, each of has a base need for family, acceptance, love, and support.  Smith’s memoir highlights not only her insecurities about committed relationships and her conscious efforts to avoid stereotyping or relying on her assumptions of various cultures when meeting new people, but also her quirkiness at making each temporary apartment or hotel feel more like a home by decorating it with statues, blankets, and other items.  She’s also like many readers, a book collector and completely helpless when it comes to saying no to books in a bookstore.  Her over-packed luggage and rising airport fees are a testament to her journey to South American and Latin American bookstores, especially as she seeks recommendations who compare to Jane Austen from the local residents.  All the while, she’s learning Spanish and immersing herself in the language at every turn.

“One of the fun features of Spanish that English lacks is the capacity to create nouns that express behaviors out of other nouns or verbs.  So a dog is un perro, and behaving like a dog to somebody (see how many words that takes?) is una perrada.  Behaving like un burro (donkey) translates into una burrada and un cochino (a pig), una cochinada.”  (page 21 ARC)

There are moments when she falls ill and cannot recall the names of the book group members, which readers may find a bit disrespectful given the time these men and women gave her for the book group discussions.  What would really have added to the memoir would have been better descriptions of the places she went or saw or perhaps the inclusion of pictures from some of these locations.  However, these are minor quibbles given the societal and social insights the memoir provides as a bungling American travels through unfamiliar countries.  More than a discussion of Jane Austen and her books, All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith is an examination of one woman’s journey through other worlds and learning how to go with the flow and find her own happiness in a world that moves blindingly.

About the Author:

Amy Elizabeth Smith, originally from Pennsylvania, teaches writing and literature at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Her memoir, All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane (Sourcebooks, June 1, 2012) recounts her year spent learning Spanish and holding Austen reading groups in Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina.

This is my 48th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler With David Dalton

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler with David Dalton is my first rock n’ roll memoir.  Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, always struck me as very Bohemian, and he even says as much in his memoir.  Readers will be surprised to find that the memoir is Steven Tyler telling his story and not some writer’s idea of what his story should sound like.  It’s not prettied up.  As the pages turn, readers will find that Tyler remembers a great many details, even street names and house/apartment numbers.

(Aerosmith was considered a Boston band, and many were thrilled when the band set up Mama Kin Music Hall.  The band was often considered the bad boys of Boston, and the closure of the club caused some angst among followers who felt the band had snubbed its nose at the hometown.  But I digress.)

There is a no-holds-barred quality to the writing and the story in this memoir, but that’s just how readers would want it.  From his early influences of piano played . . . more like breathed . . . by his father to his drug use and religious upbringing as a Bronx native who summered in New Hampshire, all sides of Steven Tyler are exposed.  His childhood seemed pretty typical for any boy with artistic parents, with summers in the country, a love of animals, hunting and fishing, and being overzealous about girls and just about everything.  His family moved to Yonkers and he was enrolled in a private school.

Tyler’s memoir is a bit of back and forth as memories seem to crop up and send him off in new directions, but readers will get a good sense of how he is on a daily basis with this kind of narration.  Drinking, drugs, and girls are his main vices, but the music is a constant as he jams with his father’s band as a young teenager on drums and eventually grows into his own as a musician.

Tyler loves capitalizing words for emphasis and he does “talk” to himself from time to time.  Readers put off by swears and other vulgar language may find the memoir to gritty, but for a rock n’ roll artist, what else can be expected.  An unexpected surprise throughout the book are snippets of poems, though it is not clear when exactly they were written or why.  Readers also will learn about musical terms from dissonance to fifth notes, etc.

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? provides readers with an inside look at what it means to be a rock musician, what makes them great at what they do, and how they can maintain their success over the long term in spite of the downfalls and obstacles they face.  Steven Tyler offers more than just an inside look at his life; he’s offering an inside look at music, artistry, and the drive to succeed along the way.


This is my 58th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.




Seeking help at a drug abuse treatment center is necessary for people who have been abusing drugs for a long time.