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We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a book about a resistance movement started by young boys and girls after they saw what the Hitler Youth movement was really like and what it was about. The White Rose movement ultimately came to the attention of the Gestapo, and while the Nazi regime looked for them, the student network continued to grow.

Through a series of mimeographed leaflets that were left in doors and other locations, the students were able to call attention to Adolf Hitler’s terrible policies and the deaths of Germany’s citizens. Freedman uses a series of historical documents and photographs to chronicle the journey of the Scholls and how they came to oppose the regime and garner supporters.

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a testament to the power of youthful conviction and social networks in opposing forces that are immoral and policies that are wrong.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.

New Authors Challenge

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 392 pgs.
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Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey into the books and with the authors that we all know and love from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so many more. It is clear that Schmidt and Rendon are book lovers like many voracious readers, and it is their love of reading that has propelled them to take a number of journeys with authors and more. Broken down into two parts: the first part focuses on the journeys that can be taken based on places in books and the places that authors lived, went to, and died; the second part focuses on the places between the pages of the books written by some of the most famous authors known.

“Sometimes a book invites a journey, sometimes we invite ourselves.” (pg. VIII)

Readers know the feeling of falling into a book, walking the streets with characters and becoming part of the local color as they read, but to journey to actual places in search of authors’ homes or lives or even just those spots that inspired their work is a journey not to be missed. Readers would be advised not to treat this as a travel guide with an intuitive layout, as the book does not break down the sites and museums by geographical region and does not group the places by author. It can take a bit of work to create a list of places of interest to see based on a particular region or author, but the intention of this book is the journey, retracing the steps of favorite authors or books.

From the libraries that house some of the oldest books to the literary festivals across the United States and Europe, the authors have packed this second edition with a treasure trove of literary treats, including a list of places where places in novels, like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, came alive on the movie screen. There are famous hotels where authors have stayed, as well as restaurants and bars where authors have eaten and indulged when they could.

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey in itself and a compendium of literary spots for the book lover in all of us. Indulge by reading about one favorite author and all the places or dip in and out to learn something new about your authors or nearby literary spots.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Shannon McKenna Schmidt is the co-author with Joni Rendon of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads. She has written for Arrive, National Geographic Traveler, Shelf Awareness, Gothamist.com, and other publications and websites. A former Hoboken, New Jersey, resident, she is traveling full-time in the United States and abroad and can be found on the web at EverywhereOnce.com and NovelDestinations.wordpress.com.

Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman is fraught with gangs, poverty, and class struggle. In Todos Santos, these families barely scrape by to make a living, but even as they fail to see eye-to-eye sometimes, each strives for the dream of a comfortable life — whether that means a husband who stays home with his wife rather than his mistress or a young man seeking his fortune in North America.

Clearman’s strongest stories are the series about Concepción and the baby brokers that provides not only the perspective of a woman who sells a child, but the perspective of the broker who buys children, the parents who search for their lost child, and the parents from North America who are desperate to have a family. This series is so emotionally charged and convoluted, but it’s easy to see that there is always more than one side to a story, even if the selling of babies is abhorrent.

“‘The race is long and hard, like life,’ his grandfather had told him. ‘There is no winner. The purpose is to bear up, to survive.'” (pg. 109 from “The Race”)

Clearman breathes life into Todos Santos and its people, demonstrating that like the United States, class is an obstacle many wish to overcome to reach prosperity. While their circumstances may be reduced compared to those in the United States, their dreams are similar in terms of material wealth and familial wealth. Like many races in the United States, the the Mayan descendants are discriminated against, with the children whipped at school until they speak proper Spanish, etc.

Drawing on folklore and mythology, Clearman pays homage to a culture that is hidden in the jungles and cities of Central America. But she also follows some of these residents as they chase their dreams in America. The different walks of life represented her was interesting and engaging, though in some cases, it is hard to emotionally connect with the characters, like they are not as fleshed out as those in the first half of the stories. Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman provides a new look at a culture often overlooked or hidden in literature.

RATING: Tercet

Photo credit Douglas Chadwick

About the Author:

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert

Source: the author
Paperback, 118 pgs.
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The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert calls to mind how things are connected or organized in our lives. Some of these things are not experienced directly by the narrator of the poems, but tangentially. The pasts of our fathers and mothers can affect our lives even without us realizing it, but our own connections also can call back those moments missed or even moments we’ve forgotten. These poems are a maze of memory, experience, and so much more. Weisert’s verse unwinds this maze and finds the hidden connections.

From "The Scheme of Things" (pg. 11)

So: One morning, from nowhere, an unselected self: A gait
that unrhythms you, a gasp that fills your fist
with nameless stuff. Your skull a holy dome -- A new weight!
But on this plain, the claw-and-hunch will coexist
with you for ages.  All aching appetite, her jaws will snap
flesh, and your fine teeth close. ...

Readers will love how she plays with musicality in her poems, weaving the songs of Gershwin around the encounters with the narrator’s lover or the rhythm of words she and her mother used to create a language only they could understand. Weisert’s fluid vision permeates each poem, packing it full of gems like “Voice is our other body, how we move in the dark.” from “The Dark” (pg. 24). Readers will move with her narrator through the past and the present, looking at the two cities left to her by her absent father or the ravages of war that should not be forgotten and never shall.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert is not heavy in its musicality, almost creating a dreamlike trance for the reader to easily flow in and out of these connections and, yet, continue to feel the deep emotion, the scars, and awe without plummeting down.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Hilde Weisert‘s collection The Scheme of Things was published in 2015 by David Robert Books. Her poem, “The Pity of It,” was winner of the 2016 Tiferet Poetry Award, and she’s had poems in such magazines as Ms, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, Calyx, and several anthologies. She lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Sandisfield, Mass.

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky, the winner of the 2016 National Book Award in Poetry, is a performance piece written in verse that uses disturbing imagery and rhetoric to examine the boundaries of humanity within the kaleidoscope of immigration, capitalism, and increasing globalization.  Readers will hear and envision a young man on stage speaking truths and satire, picking apart capitalism and so much more in modern society. The collection begins with the poem, “Let Light Shine Out of Darkness,” in which the narrator says, “I live in a body that does not have enough light in it.”  It’s clear that the narrator has been told that he is, or at least he has felt, inadequate.

Borzutzky is exploring humanity from its most vulnerable — a refugee, an outsider — but also how that human must perform in order to find acceptance and not be the subject of violence.  The performance of this book is brutal in its honesty and the reader is forced into frantic reading, almost as one rubbernecks on the road opposite a car wreck.  But in this way, his poems are more powerful because they are “a bedtime story for the end of the world.” (“The Performance of Becoming Human,” pg.15).

So much of the modern world is artifice and natural beauty is shunned or destroyed.  The poet is drawing from current news, from the communities around him, and from the current state of the state. Should the people who live under a regime or a plantation own be asked what they need in order to work or should they merely be expected to work and receive what they are given with gratefulness? Should they expect more for the hard work and the fruits of their labor or should they merely beat down the man next to him on the same social level to receive more?  How does one survive in oppressive circumstances and how do they reconcile the choices they make or don’t make in order to succeed and live?

“The best dictators don’t kill their subjects rather they make their subjects kill each other.”

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky is all artifice and all reality. There is a duality being an immigrant and a citizen and there is a balance that must be struck in survival. But this collection lifts the veil to show you a dark underbelly. There are no solutions, just a light shone on the whole.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Daniel Borzutzky is a Chicago-based poet and translator. His collection The Performance of Becoming Human won the 2016 National Book Award.

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza

Source: AWP Purchase
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Interrobang by Jessica Piazza is mostly a collection of sonnets that explore a series of phobias and obsessions that often cause us to go over the edge or come very close to our own destruction. This inner turmoil is rarely seen by outsiders or if it is, it is ignored. Piazza brings these obsessions and fears into the light to share with us just how constraining they can be, but there is also an undercurrent of letting loose and a rolling with the punches as they come.

From "Lilapsophobia" (pg. 24)

... But flood's not much
compared with these cyclonic days. No way
to gauge you: wrath or pleasure, unfixed track
away or toward. Untoward, you leave no wake.

Imagine that sleep is the quiet that soothes your fears, imagine to that the light is not hope but something that is jarring and humbling. This is how Piazza’s poems pack their punches, lulling the reader into a known world only to shake them awake with a new world view — one that is a little disturbing. “Antephilia” (Love of Ruin) is one of the most phenomenal poems in the collection, exploring the wreck of a dysfunctional relationship with graveyard imagery and more. Piazza has taken the mess and created a love that leaves a lasting impression in its dysfunction without delving too far into the melodrama of these lives.

Meanwhile, “Pediophilia” (Love of Dolls) almost becomes an ode to loss and the filling up of the emptiness where a daughter once was, only to find it full of creepy dolls in an orphanage devoid of joy and life. Piazza’s imagery is haunting and devastating, and readers will have to force themselves to take it all in, rather than turn away. These poems want you to take notice of the darkness, of the mess, of the emptiness so that you can be ready for the collection’s conclusion and it’s minor note of hope and change.

Jessica Piazza is a talented wordsmith who can weave pictures that will sear into readers’ minds. Her poems in Interrobang are going to force you to look into the darkness so long that the bright light is almost to blinding to see.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Obliterations

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review, and curates the Poetry Has Value blog (a must read), which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth.

Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a book length poem exploring a year-long tangle with grief after a miscarriage.  Broken into the four seasons, the poem rises and falls with the ebb and flow of melancholy. It attempts to illustrate the loss of what could have been or what almost was or even what you wanted to be.  It’s the loss of potential … the loss of discovery of that being.

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 3)

"So that her flight is
flighty, a hop and flap
flutter skip from
branch to branch to
lower branch -- here-ing
and there-ing -- then
the branch dips"

Thorburn relies not only on the natural world to demonstrate fleeting life or the sudden drop off that catches us off-guard emotionally, but also the wider urban world he notices walking with his wife or when he is alone on the streets. Despite the emptiness the narrator feels at the lost one-ounce life he’d imagined taking flight, there are moments of creative imagining, a filling in of what could have been or might have been had things turned out differently. What’s absolutely stunning is how true it all is, particularly:

From "Once in Early Spring" (pg. 11)

"My own words fall

away now, sound weird,
off, odd jangle-clang
in the ear like when
we say something again
and again until
it slips loose of its mooring,
its meaning, so that
we wind up staring"

Grief often paralyzes us, makes us sound unlike ourselves and unable to articulate what is happening to us emotionally. It is even harder for us to connect with others who reach out to us to help us through that pain, and many times we choose to withdraw, to forget, to hold that grief unto ourselves because we don’t know how to express it, how to share it, or how to process and let it go.

From "Three Deer Beneath the Autumn Moon" (pg. 44)

"this hurt is like a burr
hooked in the haunch
of a deer: I carry it with me
all day.  I think of you still,

so still, not there anymore"

Dear Almost: A Poem by Matthew Thorburn is beautiful in its attempt to articulate that which we cannot explain or even deal with.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Matthew Thorburn is the author of six collections of poetry, including the book-length poem Dear Almost (Louisiana State University Press, 2016) and the chapbook A Green River in Spring (Autumn House Press, 2015), winner of the Coal Hill Review chapbook competition. His previous collections include This Time Tomorrow (Waywiser Press, 2013), Every Possible Blue (CW Books, 2012), Subject to Change, and an earlier chapbook, the long poem Disappears in the Rain (Parlor City Press, 2009). His work has been recognized with a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, as well as fellowships from the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His interviews with writers appear on the Ploughshares blog as a monthly feature. He lives in New York City, where he works in corporate communications.

A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery

Source: Tandem Literary
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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A Million Little Things by Susan Mallery came unexpectedly in the mail, but my mom decided to pick it up when she was here on vacation.  She read this one in just a couple of days, and I could hear her giggling on the couch in the evenings.

About the Book:

Zoe Saldivar is more than just single—she’s ALONE. She recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend, she works from home and her best friend Jen is so obsessed with her baby that she has practically abandoned their friendship. The day Zoe accidentally traps herself in her attic with her hungry-looking cat, she realizes that it’s up to her to stop living in isolation.

Her seemingly empty life takes a sudden turn for the complicated—her first new friend is Jen’s widowed mom, Pam. The only guy to give her butterflies in a very long time is Jen’s brother. And meanwhile, Pam is being very deliberately seduced by Zoe’s own smooth-as-tequila father. Pam’s flustered, Jen’s annoyed and Zoe is beginning to think “alone” doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

Mom’s Review:

Kirk, a cop, is Jen’s husband, and they have an 18-month-old baby who refuses to talk to his own mother once he starts talking.  Stephen, Jen’s brother, likes to play the field, and Pam decides to fix him up with Zoe, who has had an off-again on-again relationship with Chad, a married man.  Add to the mix errors at a clinic where shots are given to women who want to avoid pregnancy.  You can imagine what kind of mess occurs.

Very dramatic, very serious, and a bit suspenseful as you didn’t know what was going to happen.  4 stars.

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women. Publishers Weekly calls Susan’s prose “luscious and provocative,” and Booklist says “Novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor and superb storytelling.” Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. Visit her at www.SusanMallery.com

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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, is a delightful story of a young girl bubbling over with so many questions and problems to solve. She reminds me so much of my daughter and her endless questions about why things are and how they became. Many kids inquire, but like Ada, they need to be encouraged to explore, to experiment, to create, and to discover. Ada is a strong girl who is not afraid of failure, with each mishap she begins again, returning to her same questions and moving forward with each new piece of information she learns.

Her parents and teachers have no idea what to do with her inquiring mind, and even when they put her in the “thinking” chair, it’s hard for Ada to stop her exploring and wondering. My daughter and I are just beginning her exploring from rock discovery kits to scientific explosions and creating slime. It’s wonderful to share with her the knowledge I learned and to see how she uncovers the connections and has fun doing so.

The poetry in Beaty’s book is fantastic, if a little awkward in some places. But overall, children will get the bug — the discovery bug — and want to find out for themselves how the world operates and what is going on around them. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, is delightful, and my daughter and I cannot wait to check out the other kids books she has about kids dreaming big, doing great things, and having fun too.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Andrea Beaty was raised in southern Illinois in a town so small she knew everybody and their pets. And they all knew her. She was one of six kids and spent our summer days traipsing through the fields and forests hunting for adventure. She was a big reader as a kid and LOVED Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon Mysteries. Then Andrea moved on to Agatha Christie books and then the classics. She attended Southern Illinois University and studied Biology and Computer Science. After that, she worked for a computer software company. Now, she lives in Chicago with her family. Visit her website. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Also, check out David Roberts’ illustrations online.

Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 144 pgs.
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Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson is an exploration of the unknown, whether that is a physical or emotional place. “There are words that others know … single words that speak paragraphs of meaning,” he says. Poetry is very much like that, using few words to describe complex emotions and situations in a way that is concise but pregnant. Gregson’s poems are often just written on scraps of typewriter paper or are accompanied by photographs, and on the surface they appear simple, but this is deceiving. There is a deeper sense of searching and reaching beneath his lines — a wanderlust for more.

The search we all embark upon is different, but in many ways it is the same. We seek to live, to experience, to love, and how we find those passions is different but the emotional journey is often the same. There are ups and downs, but there are not right or wrong answers to how the journey should be taken, and this is what Gregson chooses to remind us of in his poems.

“I do not know how deep I would have gone
if you did not know how to pronounce my name.
Do I thank you now, drop to my knees
in the shallow waters and kiss the salt on your shoes?”

Readers will love his honesty. These poems are honest in their ramblings and emotions, and they will touch readers deeply. The collection, his third, includes previously published poems, but also new material and breath-taking photos. See the vivid world in Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Tyler Knott Gregson is a poet, author, professional photographer, and artist who lives in the mountains of Helena, Montana. When he is not writing, he operates his photography company, Treehouse Photography, with his talented partner, Sarah Linden.  Visit him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Check out his Website.

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander and Joe Sartore

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander, photos by Joel Sartore, is a gorgeous book for kids — a photographic ark with poems. The images bring forth the magic of Alexander’s poetry from the silly game playing primates to the large rumbling feet of elephants. These short haiku eek out elements of each animal, helping kids identify some of their behaviors and qualities, while engaging their eyes in a play of color.

In “Chorus of Creatures” near the center of the book, Alexander draws parallels between the animals in this ark and humans, calling on all of us to show respect for the world around us, or we might just share its end. At the end of the book is a key with all of the animals listed that appeared in earlier pages, and near the bottom is a key where readers can find out which animals in this ark are critically endangered, vulnerable, and more.

Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander, photos by Joel Sartore, is an ark you need in your home to teach children and adults about the animals on our planet and how we are connected to them.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 24 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. Some of his other works include THE PLAYBOOK: 52 RULES TO HELP YOU AIM, SHOOT, AND SCORE IN THIS GAME OF LIFE; the picture books, ANIMAL ARK, OUT OF WONDER and SURF’S UP; and novels BOOKED, HE SAID SHE SAID, and the forthcoming SOLO.

About the Photographer:

Joel Sartore has produced more than 30 stories from around the world as a freelance photographer for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. He is an author, speaker and teacher who captivates audiences with his funny and inspiring adventures.