The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen

  • the year my mother came back (Algonquin)Title: The Year My Mother Came Back: A Memoir
  • Author:  Alice Eve Cohen
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  March 2015 – Algonquin Books
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  In one year Alice is diagnosed with breast cancer, her 8-year-old daughter undergoes surgery to lengthen her leg and her 18-year-old daughter decides she wants to find her birth mother. One of those scenarios would be enough to cause anxiety in a mother but all three have Alice wishing her mother Louise was around. But she’s been dead for thirty years.

When Alice begins radiation her mother appears in the room and talks to Alice while she lies perfectly still for the duration. Once she gets over the shock of these visits Alice starts to appreciate the perspective she gains of and from her mother.  Their relationship underwent significant change following Louise’s own breast cancer experience. She became depressed while, at the same time, Alice was a blossoming adolescent who didn’t understand what happened to the woman who’d always shown her unconditional love.

The Year My Mother Came Back is a memoir that many readers (particularly women) will find relatable. It’s a loving homage from a daughter to her mother that I found meaningful and genuine.

Spotlight/US Giveaway: Going Gypsy – Q&A with authors David & Veronica James

Going Gypsy
About the Book:
Almost every couple faces a “now what?” moment as their last kid moves out of the house. There’s a big empty nest looming over this new and uncertain stage in their lives.David and Veronica James chose to look at this next phase of life as a beginning instead of an ending. Rather than staying put and facing the constant reminders of empty bedrooms and backseats, a plan began to develop to sell the nest and hit the highway. But could a homebody helicopter mom learn to let go of her heartstrings and house keys all at once?Filled with a sense of adventure and humor, GOING GYPSY is the story of a life after raising kids that is a celebration of new experiences. Pulling the rip cord on the daily grind, David and Veronica throw caution to the wind, quit their jobs, sell their house, put on their vagabond shoes, and go gypsy in a beat-up old RV found on eBay.On a journey of over ten thousand miles along the back roads of America (and a hysterical, error-infused side trip into Italy), they conquer old fears, see new sights, reestablish bonds with family and friends, and transform their relationships with their three grown children from parent-child to adult-to-adult. Most importantly, they rediscover in themselves the fun-loving youngsters who fell in love three decades prior.
About the Authors, by the authors:
David James was born in Wichita, Kansas, and grew up on the prairie and in the mountains of Colorado. He made his way in the music business as a performer, recording artist, songwriter, and radio personality in Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. After parenting and sending three kids out into the big wide world, he currently lives with his bride of thirty years, Veronica, in a state of perpetual motion. The couple writes about their travels since becoming empty nesters on their popular website, GypsyNester.com.Veronica James was born and raised in Southern California and was like, totally, a Valley Girl. Against any sane person’s better judgment, she ran off with a musician at age eighteen.Afterprocreating, she became Earth Mama, then Helicopter Mom, hovering over every detail of her children’s lives. Veronica has held approximately thirty-three different jobs including writer. She is never bored.


Q&A with David & Veronica James

Authors of GOING GYPSY: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All.

GypsyNesterAuthors

Most people become empty nesters when their kids leave home, but you left home too. How did that come about?

David: We were living in the Virgin Islands and were a bit separated from all of our family and friends in the US. Once our youngest went off to college in the states, like his sisters before him, there was nothing keeping us in the Caribbean. So we decided to sell the house and take what we called a “victory lap,” celebrating a job well done—getting our kids raised and successfully out on their own.

Veronica: One of the reasons I had to resort to drastic measures was that I worked at the kids’ school. I was the quintessential “helicopter mom,” hovering over everything my kids did. The idea of going back to the school without the kids there was heartbreaking. So we whittled our belongings down to sixteen boxes and took off in a beat-up old RV we bought on eBay.

What was the process like from when you decided to take off to when you started your adventure?

David: That’s what Going Gypsy is all about. We cover the year when our son left for college and we hit the road. We did not have this big plan in our heads at the start to live a gypsy lifestyle. It organically grew as we went along. Initially, we got the motor home as a way to take some time to visit with family and friends and see the country without going broke. Once we were out on the road a while, we realized how much we liked it and wanted to figure out how we could keep going. It’s been over six years now.

Veronica: A big thing that jolted us into thinking about a new approach to our lives was when we Googled “empty nest” and a big ad for an Alzheimer’s patch popped up. We thought, “holy cr-moley!” We have a good third of our lives left and that’s too long a time to be sitting around doing nothing. We see our book as a kick in the butt to get folks going and hopefully think outside the box.

How did you dispense with a lifetime’s worth of belongings?

Veronica: The stress of a big move is huge no matter what the circumstances. We gave away or sold a lot of stuff, keeping only the things we knew we couldn’t live without (like photo albums and family heirlooms). Those we managed to fit into sixteen boxes that we put in storage. Now I find I’m more organized the less I have with me. If I have too many things and too much space to spread out in, I get really scattered and disorganized.

How did you adjust to having “no nest at all?”

David: We replaced our nest with one on wheels. The RV became our new home. It’s remarkable how homey it became and how quickly. It’s obviously very condensed, and we do travel light, but when you think about what you really need, we have the basics—a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a table to sit at to eat and write.

Veronica: And the view out the window is different every day, which is fantastic!

How did your kids react to you leaving home?

Veronica: Our son was horrified at first. I remember him saying, “you’re going to live in your car?!” But I think they’re happy for us. My guess is that they are also happy that Mom has things to do besides constantly bugging them about who they are dating or when they might make us grandparents.

David: I imagine what they’re thinking is a mixture of relief and what the heck are they doing? But a big plus in this process has been developing a new relationship with our children as adults. We wanted to make an adult-to-adult connection and not be helicopter parents any longer.

Don’t you miss seeing your kids regularly?

David: We see the kids more than we would have if we’d stayed in St. Croix because we can route ourselves through wherever they are on our way from one adventure to the next.

Veronica: Our daughters live in Manhattan so they are easy to see often. Our son is in Alaska but he is a pilot and has the flying privileges that come with that, so it is usually easier for him to meet up with us.

How do you handle holidays?

David: Our oldest daughter took over the hostess role fairly quickly, as soon as we didn’t have the house any longer. She’s not one to miss out on the holiday treats and I guess she knew that it’s nearly impossible to shove a turkey into a motor home oven!

Veronica: She has done a remarkable job. New York City is an amazing place to spend the holidays. It’s very festive. So everyone is happy.

Was making this leap more exciting or scary?

David: I am a musician so I always traveled a lot and I love it. It was natural for me to explore. For Veronica it was more of a drastic change.

Veronica: The hardest part was the initial decision to make the leap. I was a homebody—I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. But I’m proactive, and a planner, so it was good for me to be able to throw myself into the planning phase. I did have to do quite a bit of fear conquering. I guess I just transferred the fear—now I’m more scared to stop moving than I was to start in the first place!

How many places have you visited?

David: We started in the RV by exploring the US, and then branched out to Mexico and Canada, following the weather like geese. As time went on, we broadened our horizons and added some traveling by air and sea. Now I think we’ve been to over 40 countries on five continents. Later this year we’re heading to Africa, making six out of seven, then our final continent will be Antarctica. We’ll get there!

Veronica: David has also been to all 50 states but I’ve only been to 48, so I need to cover my last two—Alaska and Hawaii. We’re very competitive so I can’t stand him being ahead of me.

What have been the highlights so far?

Veronica: There are so many amazing high points. But I think the Galapagos Islands were up there at the top. I love animals; I’m like a little kid around them. The islands have so many unique species, and they are completely unafraid of humans, so if you love animals put the Galapagos at the top of your bucket list.

David: I answer this question different each time it’s asked because I have so many favorites. Walking along the top of the Great Wall of China was a real highlight. But I could easily name dozens more.

What have been the low points?

Veronica: Yikes. Well, I locked myself inside a hotel room in Italy once. But a big one came when we had a blowout over our traveling styles. We had discussed the empty nest and all that it entailed, but forgot to discuss how we liked to travel. It ended up coming to a head in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Yellowstone National Park, in the middle of a herd of buffalo.

David: I have a go-go-go mindset. I always want to be moving forward. Veronica likes to really get a feel for a place and connect to it. In the end, I learned to adapt more to her style because it is a better way to see the world.

Veronica: I call him a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am traveler.

Have you inspired others to travel?

Veronica: I hope so. My favorite part of this journey so far has been hearing from folks who chose places because we said how much we loved them. But there are so many wonderful things people in our life phase can do if they aren’t interested in travel, you don’t have to be as crazy as we are to start going gypsy. Do that thing that inspires you, something that you’ve always wanted to explore. Write that book, volunteer in your community, go back to school. And don’t forget to reconnect with your partner, do new things together, and find that pre-kid couple who fell in love all those years ago. We are not self-help writers. We haven’t written a how-to guide. We just aspire to be the same kind of kick in the butt for our readers that we found when we first saw that ad for the Alzheimer’s patch.

David: We try to seek out the unexpected, and discover overlooked gems in our travels. Sometimes they are found in famous, bucket-list type destinations; often they are hiding well off the beaten path. Either way we enjoy relaying stories from out of the ordinary. Hopefully that inspires some people to venture down the road less traveled too.

How have you pushed yourselves?

Veronica: I made a decision to fear-conquer my butt off. As a mom I developed so many fears and it turned into a vicious cycle. I purposefully inserted myself into situations to overcome these fears. Just to name a few, I’ve paraglided off of the seacliffs in Lima, Peru, shot the rapids in Montana, and ziplined over a 300-foot waterfall in Newfoundland—I even went to roller derby camp; it took three days in bed to recover from that little escapade!

David: Veronica was all gung-ho about jumping out of an airplane in Australia. I see no need to abandon a functioning aircraft unless it is on fire. But once she threw down the gauntlet I accepted the challenge. Halfway up our attitudes had done a complete 180—she was looking pretty puny, scared to death, and I was excited at the prospect of freefalling from ten thousand feet.

Have you eaten any strange foods? 

David: Tons. We write about that a lot on our blog. I’m not sure if they were the strangest, but the worst by far was silkworms in China. For one thing, the smell made it nearly impossible to eat them. Oh, and the fact that they are bugs.

Veronica: A little clarification here, I ate silkworms, David spit his out. I won that one.

David: Let me just go on the record here: while I admit to spitting out the vile worm, I did eat a bug in Mexico, a cricket to be exact, and it was about a million times better than the silkworms.

Veronica: Yes, he did finally lose his bug virginity.

What’s next for the Gypsy Nesters?

Veronica: The more we travel the more we want to see; we’ve turned into very greedy travelers! We’d love to get to New Zealand. And we haven’t been to Scotland—we both have roots there—so we feel a huge pull to visit. I could name several dozen more… but you really don’t want me to pull out the whole list, do you?

David: When we started out we had a saying: the plan is no plans. We like to leave life open to reveal itself to us so we usually don’t know where we will be too far in advance. We have a river cruise coming up through Holland and Belgium, and we are going to Africa this summer, but beyond that we will see where the wind takes us. In the meantime, we are working on a second book that will cover our adventures after that first year of taking our initial leap into the life of Going Gypsy.


I think Going Gypsy sounds like a great memoir!

If you’d like to win a copy there’s a US Giveaway

Please click here and fill out the form

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Going Gypsy

Singing to a Bulldog by Anson Williams

  • Singing to a Bulldog (Nov11)Title:  Singing to a Bulldog: From “Happy Days” to Hollywood Director, and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There
  • Author:  Anson Williams
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  November 2014 – Reader’s Digest
  • Source:  Publicist

My take:  Singing to a Bulldog is a slim memoir that packs a lot of inspiration within the 150+ pages. I remembered Anson Williams from the 70s sitcom Happy Days but hadn’t heard anything about him in recent decades. I don’t watch a lot of tv so I missed all the shows he directed. He’s been a busy guy who realizes how blessed his life has been.

He didn’t start out that way. He had a criticizing father who blamed Anson for all of his own failures. That had to be tough for a kid to live with! What ended up saving Anson was a janitorial job at a California store when he was in his mid-teens. His department boss, Willie Turner, taught him life lessons through brief adages he’d learned in his own life. Willie was an older, alcoholic man who was able to keep his job despite his issues.

In his own way, Willie provided the nurturing that had been missing in Anson’s life. Without realizing it he became Anson’s mentor and Anson listened and used those lessons. What he found out was that Willie knew what he was talking about.

I thought Singing to a Bulldog had a folksy feel to it. It’s chapters are very short (rarely going over five pages). That made it easy to pick up and set down. Each begins and ends with one of Willie’s lessons. The lessons may seem a bit simplistic to some readers but it’s Williams’ memoir and, given he had no parent willing to teach him, the effect of the lessons on his life was huge. It’s not a typical Hollywood memoir although Williams does share a few stories about other stars that all readers will recognize. One thing I found lacking in the book are photos. I would have loved to see a few.

Recommended to fans of the memoir genre, Hollywood memoirs, life advice books.


Click here for a video of the author on Access Hollywood

Author Bio
Best known for his Golden Globe nominated role as Warren “Potsie” Weber on the series Happy Days, Anson Williams is also an award-winning television director and writer as well as a singer and producer. He has directed more than 300 hours of television for a variety of series, including Beverly Hills, 90210, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. He won the prized Humanitas Award for his writing, has been honored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and served on the board of the USO. Together with business partner JoAnna Connell, he founded StarMaker Products, an international product company. He lives with his wife and five daughters in Los Angeles, California.

Reviews
Singing To A Bulldog is such a meaningful, fun, and uplifting book. I have such sweet memories of Anson . . . like millions of others, I loved him on “Happy Days.” I am proud to be a little part of this wonderfully written, revealing, informative, and entertaining book. Praise and congratulations to Anson.”
— Dolly Parton

“I’ve always known Anson to be a great storyteller as well as a true and generous friend. Now he’s written the most important story of his life — about Willie Turner, the head janitor at one of Anson’s first jobs, whose words of wisdom guided him through a turbulent time in his life and gave him the confidence to move forward to a successful career as an actor, television director, and entrepreneur. Even better, he’s made it into a truly inspirational book of life lessons for the rest of us.”
— Ron Howard

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

  • can't we talk about something more pleasant?Title:  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?:  A Memoir
  • Author:  Roz Chast
  • Genre:  Memoir; Graphic
  • Published:  May 2014 – Bloomsbury USA
  • Source:  Library

Synopsis:  #1 New York Times Bestseller; 2014 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST FOR NONFICTION

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.  (publisher)

My take:  Roz Chast’s memoir is a candid look into her life, her relationship with her parents, and their final days. An only child, the enormous lifelong responsibility was all hers. You may be familiar with Chast’s New Yorker cartoons which I’ve always found notable for portraying the human condition. Her illustrations in this memoir are equally remarkable.

At times uncomfortable, at times relatable I found Can’t We talk about Something More Pleasant? a compelling read and recommend it to fans of graphic memoirs, the author, and anyone who finds themselves in the position of caretaker of an elderly parent.

The Elephant Whisperer (audiobook) by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

the elephant whisperer

  • Title:  The Elephant Whisperer
  • Authors:  Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Narrator:  Simon Vance
  • Published:  December 2012 – Tantor Media (originally published 2009)
  • Source:  Purchased

Synopsis:  When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of “rogue” wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand, his common sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn’t take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom. (from Audible.com)

My brief take:  A friend recommended The Elephant Whisperer at a time when I was looking to read something a bit different from the genres I usually read. I’m so glad I did. It’s a remarkable memoir that left me grateful for people who can and will step up to be caretakers and protectors of wildlife around the world. Mr. Anthony agreed to take care of the “rogue” herd of elephants on his game reserve in South Africa and then wrote about his experiences. It’s a compelling story that had me wishing for a film version so more people would learn about the amazing elephants and other creatures on Thula Thula and elsewhere.

Simon Vance’s performance was wonderful. In my mind, he was Lawrence Anthony. I highly recommend the audiobook! The Elephant Whisperer was an Audie Award Winner, Biography/Memoir, 2014.

How About Never – Is Never Good For You? By Bob Mankoff

how about never - is never good for you?

  • Title:  How About Never – Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons
  • Author:  Bob Mankoff
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  March 2014 – Henry Holt and Co.
  • Dimensions:  10.3 x 8.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  If you read The New Yorker then you’re familiar with the cartoons in each issue. They are subtle reflections of daily life that are mostly relatable to the majority of readers (I would guess). I’m a fan.

Bob Mankoff is the “longtime cartoon editor” of The New Yorker. How About Never is his story of turning a love of drawing into becoming a contributor to the magazine and finally its cartoon editor. Sprinkled with anecdotes and more than 250 cartoons, How About Never is an enjoyable memoir that also includes tips on how to get your cartoon accepted for the magazine and how to win the cartoon caption contest – neither are easy to do.

Mankoff has a playful, self-deprecating style that had me chuckling as I turned the pages. If you enjoy cartoons (especially those in The New Yorker) and amusing stories about the cartoon biz you’ll want to read this memoir.

Recommended. It’s on my gift list this year. My thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.

 

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman

survival lessons

  • Title:  Survival Lessons
  • Author:  Alice Hoffman
  • Genre:  Memoir; Inspirational
  • Published:  October 2013 – Algonquin Books
  • Source:  Purchased

Book flap synopsis:  Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to reenvision everything – from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. 

As Alice Hoffman says,

In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make.

Wise, gentle, and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

My take:  For someone in good health who doesn’t have a loved one dealing with a catastrophic illness this slim book could be read in an hour or less. The chapters are short and to-the-point, filled with kernels of wisdom, common sense and advice from one who has survived cancer. I imagine a reader living with cancer would appreciate and take comfort from Alice Hoffman’s experience. Her style is honest and heart-felt. Hoffman included a couple of recipes as well as the directions for knitting a hat. She made the point to enjoy eating when you can and even learn something new – like knitting. I’m glad I read Survival Lessons and I know I will read it again at some point. It’s one I’d give to a friend. It would be a good book for a reader whose loved one has cancer.

Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living by Marion Winik

highs in the low fifties

  • Title: Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living
  • Author:  Marion Winik
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  June 2013 – skirt!
  • Source:  Etch Communications

Synopsis:  A cross between Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, longtime NPR commentator Marion Winik has a uniquely hilarious and relatable way of looking at life. Her stories of being single in middle age, marked by stylish writing and stunning candor, may be her funniest – and bravest – yet.

Highs in the Low Fifties follows Winik’s attempt to rebuild her world as a once-widowed, once-divorced single mom. With her signature optimism, resilience, and poor judgement, Winik dives into a series of ill-starred romantic experiences. some are pathetic, some are sweet, and some are downright incredible. she gets propositioned (for money) by a sexy Salvadoran doing construction work on her basement, meets an emotionally unavailable dreamboat on Craigslist, and makes out with a former student. Her clarity about her mistakes and ability to find humor in the darkest moments – in love, and in all parts of life – has won her a growing crowd of devoted followers… and a few voyeurs.  (book flap)

My take:  I especially enjoy memoirs when the writer is in my age group. That was the case with Marion Winik. As I read I realized we couldn’t be more different from each other. Where she has taken huge bites out of life and gobbled them down I’m a small bite girl who chews carefully.

Reading about Winik’s attempts at dating in midlife was like driving past a recent car wreck on the freeway – it’s hard not to look. I couldn’t stop reading even though a few times I was uncomfortable with what she experienced. That says more about me than the author, I think.

I don’t think I did that much coke, really, and even my sister, who tends to have a sharper take on such matters, agrees with me. Nonetheless, the wages of sin and narcissism just keep rolling in. As a greeting card I tacked on my bulletin board years ago says, “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.”  (page 209)

Winik’s writing is sharp and engaging. If you’re a fan of the author and memoirs of this type I think you’ll probably enjoy Highs in the Low Fifties.

 

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

provence, 1970

  • Title:  Provence, 1970  MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
  • Author:  Luke Barr
  • Genre:  Biography; Memoir
  • Published:  October 2013 – Clarkson Potter
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.  (publisher)

My take:  Luke Barr’s affection for his great-aunt Mary Frances Kennedy (MFK) Fisher is apparent in Provence, 1970. His narrative and anecdotes (culled from MF’s diaries and letters) of the last months of 1970 as well as the years before and after make for an interesting reading experience. The principal players have strong opinions where food and eating are concerned. I found myself in the camp of Beard, Fisher and Child. Cooking should not be intimidating or come with a purist attitude when presenting recipes for the masses. Rather, stress the importance of quality ingredients. Simplicity can be its own form of beauty. At least, that’s how I took the message.

Adding to the story were cooking purists who seemed to enjoy looking down their collective nose at American chefs. Their catty remarks about Fisher, Beard and Child seemed to be steeped in jealousy and self-loathing. Who knew? Not this foodie neophyte, that’s for sure.

At any rate, the late 1960s and the 1970s were times of great cultural change in the US and the world. The same could be said of the food world. Child and Beard were at the helm in showing regular people how to cook good food. And MFK Fisher wrote about eating good food. I enjoyed Provence, 1970 and think fans of cooking or any of the chefs listed, culinary students, and fans of books about eating will want to read it.

Spotlight on: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer Gilbert’s memoir I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag was recently released in paperback. I reviewed it here in 2012 (review). Today I’ll spotlight it in case you missed it last year. Check out the link to the giveaway (US only) at the end of the spotlight!

goodie bag

  • Title:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag
  • Author:  Jennifer Gilbert
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  April 30, 2013 – Harper Paperbacks
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis: (from the Harper website)

When Jennifer Gilbert was just a year out of college, a twenty-two-year-old fresh-faced young woman looking forward to a bright future, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. But she survived, and not wanting this traumatic event to define her life, she buried it deep within and never spoke of it again.

She bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner, designing lavish parties and fairy-tale weddings. Determined to help others celebrate and enjoy life’s greatest moments, she was convinced she’d never again feel joy herself. Yet it was these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties, showered with all her love and attention through those silent, scary years, that slowly brought her back to life.

Always the calm in the event-planning storm—she could fix a ripped wedding dress, solve the problem of an undelivered wedding cake in the nick of time, and move a party with two days’ notice when disaster struck—there was no crisis that she couldn’t turn into a professional triumph. Somewhere along the way, she felt a stirring in her heart and began yearning for more than just standing on the sidelines living vicariously through other people’s lives. She fell in love, had her heart broken a few times, and then one day she found true love in a place so surprising that it literally knocked her out of her chair.

As Gilbert learned over and over again, no one’s entitled to an easy road, and some people’s roads are bumpier than others. But survive each twist and turn she does—sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, and often with both.

Warm, wise, alternately painful and funny, I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag is an inspiring memoir of survival, renewal, and transformation. It’s a tale about learning to let go and be happy after years of faking it, proving that while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control who we become. And instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag at the end of an event, we realize our presence at every event is the real gift.

Jennifer Gilbert’s website

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Giveaway ends: July 10, 2013 at 6pm EDT

Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story by Victoria Jackson and Ali Guthy

Saving Each Other

  • Title:  Saving Each Other: A Mother-Daughter Love Story
  • Authors:  Victoria Jackson & Ali Guthy
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  October 2012 – Vanguard Press
  • Source:  Review copy from FSB Associates

(Book flap synopsis) On the surface, Victoria Jackson is the American Dream personified: from a troubled childhood and unfinished high school education she overcame immeasurable odds to create a cosmetics empire valued at more than half a billion dollars. Married to Bill Guthy—self-made principal of infomercial marketing giant Guthy-Renker—Victoria’s most treasured role was mother to three beautiful, beloved children, Evan, Ali, and Jackson.

Suddenly, Victoria’s dream life is broken as she begins to battle a mother’s greatest fear. In 2008, her daughter, Ali, began experiencing unusual symptoms of blurred vision and an ache in her eye. Her test results led to the diagnosis of a disease so rare, the chance that she had it was only 2%. Neuromyeltis Optica (NMO) is a little understood, incurable, and often fatal autoimmune disease that can cause blindness, paralysis, and life-threatening seizures, and afflicts as few as 20,000 people in the world. At the age of 14, Ali was given a terrifying prognosis of between four to six years to live.

Saving Each Other begins just as Victoria and Bill learn of Ali’s disease, starting them on a powerful journey to save Ali, their only daughter, including bringing together a team of more than fifty of the world’s leading experts in autoimmune and
NMO-related diseases to create the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Victoria and Ali narrate their very different journeys of coming to terms with the lack of control that neither mother nor daughter have over NMO, and their pioneering efforts and courage to take their fight to a global level.

Bringing their story to light with raw emotion, humor, warmth, and refreshing candor, Saving Each Other is the extraordinary journey of a mother and daughter who demonstrate how the power of love can transcend our greatest fears, while at the same time battling to find a cure for the incurable.

My take:  As a parent of a child who has an autoimmune disease I was very interested in reading Saving Each Other. I’d never heard of NMO before but now feel I have a general understanding of it. That’s mostly due to the format used by Jackson and Guthy. Written in diary form it was easy to understand their feelings as they were introduced to the disease at the time of Ali’s initial attack. I could relate to their search for medical help that would actually help. I was in awe of how quickly the family started a foundation that would make a cure for NMO it’s focus.

Victoria Jackson was the major force behind making things happen even while fighting anxiety and other issues. Bill Guthy was “the funder”.  And Ali just wanted to be a normal high school kid – play tennis, be with friends, anything but be a poster child for NMO.

As memoirs go I found Saving Each Other fascinating. Yes, the family had means to seek the best treatment for their child but they also shared the knowledge gained through their search. The GJCF (Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation) continues to work for a cure of NMO.

Website:  www.guthyjacksonfoundation.org

 

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

Title:  Heads in Beds – A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

Author:  Jacob Tomsky

Genre:  Memoir

Published:  November 2012 – Doubleday

Synopsis (partial):  In the tradition of Kitchen Confidential and Waiter Rant, a rollicking, eye-opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) in the hotel industry.

Jacob Tomsky has worked in hotels for more than a decade, doing everything from valet parking to manning the front desk. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room service, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late check out, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&Ms out of your mini-bar, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. And in Heads in Beds, he pulls back the curtain on the hospitality business, revealing the crazy yet compelling reality of an industry we think we know. It is an incredibly funny, authentic, and irreverent chronicle of the highs and lows of hotel life and boy, is there a market for it: in 2010, the American lodging industry generated $127.7 billion in revenue.  Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on the valet parking garage, and the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets.

My take:  Heads in Beds is an interesting peek into the world of Hospitality. In the beginning I found Jacob Tomsky’s memoir entertaining and edgy but by the time I turned the last page I was ready to be done.

I grew tired of the almost whiny tone and the F-bomb laced stories about how and why the upscale hotel’s guests might receive upgrades or be treated poorly. I understand that he and his co-workers feel underpaid but it just seemed wrong that guests who are already paying high rates must pony up extra cash to ensure good service. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem tipping (and always do) after receiving good service. And the valet parking stories? More like horror stories!

That said, I think people who work in the Hospitality industry will enjoy this memoir. They will probably relate to the tales of working in the various areas of hotels from valet and bellman to housekeeping and laundry to the front desk. Tomsky also shares hints on how to improve your stay at a hotel. My hint: if you ever stay at his hotel, take lots of $20s!

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review.

I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

  • Title:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events – the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don’t
  • Author:  Jennifer Gilbert
  • Genre:  Memoir
  • Published:  May 2012 – HarperCollins
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is a compelling memoir that begins with a young woman just starting out in life. College is behind her and she’s ready to get out in the world and make her way. But before she can even start, a horrible event changes everything.

In May of 1991 Jennifer went into Manhattan to visit a friend and got off the subway at the wrong stop. She didn’t know someone was following her as she walked to her friend’s apartment. She was followed into the apartment building and then brutally attacked.

Jennifer Gilbert tells her story of how she climbed out of the depths of despair following the attack. It’s a journey that moved back and forth in terms of progress until she finally realized she needed to get her life going again – to not let the attacker win. She interviewed for jobs and was hired by an event-planning company. She threw herself into her job and found that not only was she good at it, she loved it. Jennifer eventually started her own company Save the Date. Over the years she dealt with trust, control issues, an eating disorder – all related to the attack.

I was glad that Gilbert’s story is not a perfect plan for surviving a horrific event. It’s a very personal account of how she made it through with determination and a lot of help from loved ones and professionals. I appreciated her honesty of how she continues to deal with life’s unplanned events. I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag is a truly inspirational memoir.

Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

Title:  Paris In Love: A Memoir

Author:  Eloisa James

Genre:  Memoir

Published:  April 2012 – Random House

My take:  Two weeks after her mother died of cancer Eloisa James was diagnosed with cancer. After coming through successful treatment the author and her husband decided to make some changes that involved getting rid of stuff and taking sabbaticals from their jobs. They sold their house and moved the family to Paris for a year.

While working on an academic book (EJ is Mary Bly in her academic/real life) and a historical romance novel James tweeted about daily life in Paris. Topics included French food, clothes, diet and exercise to offset the food, children’s school issues, and many other aspects of living in Paris.

James also included a few essays. One particularly touching essay titled Rose explained the motivation for the Paris adventure. I was caught off guard by the emotion it evoked.

At the end James compiled a list of recommended museums, places to eat, stores to buy food or clothing, etc. It would be helpful to anyone planning their own trip to Paris. I really enjoyed Paris In Love. The unusual style of short entries and essays worked for me and I think fans of memoirs will enjoy it. It’s going on my travel book shelf because Paris is on my bucket list!

Source:  Giveaway win from the publisher.

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

Ali in Wonderland:And Other Tall Tales by Ali Wentworth

Title:  Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales

Author:  Ali Wentworth

Genre:  Memoir

Published:  February 2012 – Harper

About:  (from the publisher) Growing up in a family of political journalists—and daughter of President Reagan’s White House social secretary—Ali Wentworth rebelled against her blue-blood upbringing, embracing Hollywood, motorcycles, even a few wildly inappropriate marriage proposals. Today she is an acclaimed comedic actress and writer, former Oprah regular, wife of political and media star George Stephanopoulos, and a mother who lets her two girls eat cotton candy before bed. Though she’s settled down, her rebellious nature thrives in her comedy and her view of her crazy world.

In this addictively funny and warm memoir, she takes us through the looking glass and into the wonderland of her life, from a childhood among Washington’s elite to a stint in the psych ward they called a New England prep school; days doing L.A. sketch comedy (with then-aspiring artists Will Ferrell and Lisa Kudrow) to a series of spectacularly failed loves (that eventually led her to Mr. Right). Constant throughout is her mother, Muffie—a flawlessly elegant yet firm, no-nonsense force of nature and pure WASP convictions.

My take:  Ali in Wonderland is a very entertaining memoir and Ali Wentworth is a very funny storyteller. After reading about a couple of her experiences I wondered how she was still alive. Most of the time I was laughing out loud at her tales of growing up in a privileged family, going to boarding school, and her various love interests.

My favorite part of the book? That would be from the point she met her future husband to the end of the book. Her stories of their brief engagement, planning a wedding, and the birth of their first child are hilarious.

Source:  Harper

Disclosure:  See sidebar. I was not compensated for my review.

Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log by Karen A. Chase

Title:  Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds)

Author:  Karen A. Chase

Genre:  Travel Memoir

Published:  October 2011

My take:  Karen A. Chase celebrated her 40th birthday by treating herself to a month in Paris. She immersed herself in all things French by living in a rented apartment, riding a bike or walking most of the time, shopping the markets, and enjoying the cafes. Well, really, much more than that!

Chase shares her experiences (mostly good) of living among Parisians. If you are looking for the courage to live in another country for an extended period look no further than Bonjour 40. Of course, her circumstances were perfect: a job that allowed her to take the time off; no childcare arrangements to make; and a partner who promised to meet her for the final week of her holiday. Even so, reading this short memoir made me feel it would be possible to do the same. Where there’s a will. . . right?

One more thing. I loved all the photos scattered throughout. They made me feel like I was looking through a travel scrapbook.

Source:  I bought it.

Disclosure Policy:  see sidebar

NOTE: This book is available as an eBook. I read it on a device using e-ink. A few weeks after I wrote this review I read Bonjour 40 again but this time on an iPad. The photos look clear and crisp – superior to the e-ink experience. That said, either version is recommended.

 

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Title:  The Kitchen Counter Cooking School – How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks

Author:  Kathleen Flinn

Genre:  Cooking; Memoir

Published:  September 2011 – Viking

About: (back of arc) After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultra processed foods. Flinn’s “chefternal” instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

Inspired, Flinn rounded up nine novices from varying backgrounds who were insecure about their cooking skills. After kitchen “makeovers” and a series of basic cooking lessons where they learned to wield knives, trust their taste, and improve their food choices, the women found a common missing ingredient – confidence.

My take:  I wish I’d had this book when my kids were young. I think I would have made more informed choices instead of opting for convenience. My food choices have been better over the years but there’s still room for improvement. This book is going on my kitchen bookshelf for quick reference. I’m also going to search out a knife skills class in my area. That seems to be the one aspect that all nine students valued most. It gave them confidence. Flinn explains what to look for in a chef’s knife: how it’s made, how it should feel in your hand, etc.

There are basic recipes scattered throughout the book and I plan to try most of them. After reading about specific lessons I feel like I can braise meats, make soups, sauces, vinaigrettes, and cut up or roast a whole chicken. Seriously, I have never roasted a whole chicken – but I will now! That’s a testament to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School – it made me feel like I could do this.

A few months after the classes ended Flinn visited the students to see how they were doing in terms of making changes in their cooking. It was interesting to see how they incorporated what they’d learned into their lives.

I recommend this book to fans of cooking, memoirs, and anyone who needs inspiration to make positive changes in the kitchen as well as the grocery store.

Source:  Viking via Goodreads First Reads

Disclosure Policy:  see sidebar

Recipes For Life: My Memories by Linda Evans with Sean Catherine Derek

Title:  Recipes For Life: My Memories

Author:  Linda Evans with Sean Catherine Derek

Genre:  Memoir with recipes

Published:  October 2011 – Vanguard Press

My take:  When I was young one of my favorite television shows was The Big Valley starring Barbara Stanwyck and a young actress named Linda Evans. I thought she was the most beautiful person on tv. So when I was offered a review copy of Recipes For Life I happily accepted. Linda Evans went on to star in one of the biggest shows on television: Dynasty. My children were born during those years so I was too busy/tired to watch the show but I knew it was very popular.

Recipes For Life is filled with Evans’ memories starting with her family’s move to California in the 1940s and moves through the decades to recent years. There are many stories about stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, John Forsythe, and John Wayne (to name a few) who were not only co-stars but also good friends. I enjoyed the numerous color photos scattered throughout the book. Evans also wrote about her love of cooking and included several favorite recipes – hers and those of famous chefs, actors, and other friends.

At times I was surprised by how much Evans disclosed about her marriages and relationships yet she didn’t do it in a negative way. She always seemed to take the good from each one and move on – usually on good terms. I admire her positive approach to life. Hers hasn’t necessarily been easy but she has been blessed with a few wonderful friends who have been as devoted to her as she is to them. And in my book that makes her a fortunate person.

I recommend Recipes For Life  to fans of Hollywood memoirs and cookbooks.

Source:   FSB Associates

♦  ♦  ♦

Linda’s Famed Artichoke Dip
By Linda Evans,
Author of Recipes For Life: My Memories

I’ve been making my artichoke dip for years. Practically everyone who has ever tasted it has asked me for the recipe. It’s perfect for large parties or for smaller, intimate gatherings. Or when your husband’s ex-wife comes to dinner! The secret here is to use the artichoke bottoms, not the hearts. Artichoke hearts may be easier to find, they don’t produce the same results. The recipe easily doubles or triples for large gatherings. You can also replace the artichokes with 7 ounces of lump crab meat for a delicious variation.

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Tabasco (or more, to taste)
1½ tablespoons thinly sliced scallions (white part only)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (I prefer Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 (13¾ ounce) can artichoke bottoms (not hearts), drained and finely diced

Preheat oven to 350°F.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese with the mayonnaise. One by one, blend in the Tabasco sauce, scallions, and Parmesan.

Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the artichokes (don’t use the mixer for this).

Spoon the mixture into a 3-cup baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with crackers.

The above is an excerpt from the book Recipes For Life: My Memories by Linda Evans. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2011 Linda Evans, author of Recipes For Life: My Memories

Weekend Cooking is a meme hosted at Beth Fish Reads

How To Love An American Man: A True Story by Kristine Gasbarre

Title:  How To Love An American Man

Author:  Kristine Gasbarre

Genre:  Memoir

About: (from the LibraryThing description) After dating driven, self-absorbed men in New York, Krissy Gasbarre relocates to Italy to be near her new English beau and to research the roots of her lovably alpha-male, Italian-American grandpa. But just weeks into her European adventure, the Brit takes a job in the Middle East…and her grandpa, who’s been an indelible force in her life, passes away.

For the first time in a decade, Krissy moves back to her Pennsylvania hometown to mourn her grandpa’s death and help her close-knit, festive family care for her refined (but notoriously non-maternal) grandmother. That’s when Grandma Gloria reveals the untold story of her 60-year marriage and the love lessons that made her relationship so much more successful than the ones her granddaughter’s known.

My thoughts:  I absolutely enjoyed this entertaining memoir. Kristine Gasbarre’s story about the lessons learned from her Grandmother is also a candid look at the frustrations of unrequited love and how to find the real thing. And then recognize it when you see it.

I think many readers will be able to relate to Gasbarre’s memoir.  How To Love An American Man reads like a novel. Once I started reading I found it hard to stop. I hope there will be a sequel!

Recommended.

Source:  Publisher via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Pitch Uncertain: A Mid-Century Middle Daughter Finds Her Voice by Maisie Houghton

Title:  Pitch Uncertain: A Mid-Century Middle Daughter Finds Her Voice

Author:  Maisie Houghton

Genre:  Memoir

About:  (from the book flap) Touching and incisive, Pitch Uncertain is a beautifully drawn account of Maisie Houghton’s struggle to find her own voice as the middle child of two parents whose marriage and lives she slowly decoded as she came of age in the 1950s. Growing up in the gentle ambience of Cambridge, Massachusetts, spending full summers in Dark Harbor, Maine, and regularly visiting her relatives in the socially polished reaches of greater New York, Maisie and her two sisters had the makings of an ideal childhood. But their parents were an enigma.

Pitch Uncertain portrays an era and a genteel culture as much as it deciphers a marriage.

My thoughts:  This is an intriguing memoir of a woman who grew up with parents who, although they lived in the same house, were emotionally estranged. Maisie, the middle daughter, felt responsible for her  mother’s happiness since her father seemed unable or unwilling to care. Both parents were from old money and while they weren’t poor there wasn’t the wealth that had provided for previous generations.

The story of the Kinnicutt family goes from New York to Florida to Cambridge to Maine. Maisie’s memories are of summers in Maine, school years in Massachusetts, and travels abroad. There’s an underlying feeling of discontent among all the family members and that seems to stem from the unhappy parents.

I found this memoir interesting and ultimately enjoyable – Maisie Houghton tells a good story! I also appreciated the numerous photos scattered throughout the book. I’d love to read about Maisie Houghton’s life after the Pitch Uncertain years.

Recommend?  Yes.

Source:  FSB Associates