Book Reviews

In May 2012 I bought myself a Kindle as a birthday gift. I love to read and particularly enjoy true stories told by ‘ordinary’ people who have been through adversity and have managed somehow, not only to survive, but also to share their stories thereby inspiring others. It is our stories that join us together with our human emotions and experiences. Each of us has experienced pain and each one of us has moments of joy. This is what binds the story of our lives together, the intricately woven details of our moments in time.

A friend of mine, Brian Benson, put it well when he said, “You know…we all have stories. We all have unique experiences that make each and every one of us different from everyone else…and sometimes when we listen to other people’s stories, it has a way of making our experiences richer and more valuable.”

Having a Kindle has also meant that I have access to more books and the chance to discover fellow independent (indie) or self-published authors. I have read several well-written and courageous stories, some of which I’d love to share.

Enjoy!

Please note: my star rating is never a reflection of the author as a person. I respect anyone who has taken the time and energy to write their story and bravely share it with the world. I usually only review the books that I have enjoyed.

Again in a Heartbeat

Leila Summers : August 17, 2013 2:44 am : Book Reviews

Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again by Susan G. Weidener

Book Description:
Again in a Heartbeat is a compelling and heartbreaking true story, examining love, loss and dating again following the death of the author’s husband from cancer. This is a love story, a story of marriage, of redemption and forgiveness. It moves beyond grief to Susan’s journey as a single parent and a woman searching to remake a shattered life. This story will resonate with anyone who has searched for or found true love.

My Review: * * * * *
Again in a Heartbeat is a moving read of love, loss and an effort to rebuild a life. Though I shed some tears, the author manages to tell her story honestly and soulfully without unnecessary drama. Her skills as a journalist clearly contribute to this well-written book. The story held my attention throughout and made for a quick but excellent read.

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NOT AGAIN

Leila Summers : February 23, 2013 2:29 am : Book Reviews

NOT AGAIN: “My body’s a write off but I’m all right by Richard von Hippel”

Book Description:
NOT AGAIN: “My body’s a write off but I’m all right.” is the inspirational, true life story of a woman who not only survives childhood rape, extreme domestic violence, brain haemorrhage, multiple strokes, seizures, a tumour and a whole lot more but also, somehow manages to retain a sense of humour, along with a real zest for life, fun and laughter. It is a story of immense courage and brings hope to anyone suffering any form of illness or adversity.

It is a very real measure of Iris’ life that some may find her memoir so extraordinary as to be unbelievable. However, it has to be said that no amount of personal courage, or zest for life would have made Iris’ life or memoir possible if it hadn’t been for the skill and dedication of those members of the medical profession Iris has been fortunate enough to meet along the way. They are thanked throughout the book and their names have been included in the Acknowledgements section of the memoir.

Believable or not, this memoir demonstrates the extraordinary power of the human spirit to overcome the ‘impossible’ and it is Iris’ hope that her true account of her life will prove to be a source of inspiration for others facing illness – or any other form of adversity.

My Review: * * * * *
Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. This is a truly amazing story about the life of Iris, a courageous woman who must have the worst luck and yet the best luck all at the same time. Through disaster after disaster, Iris perseveres, and somehow manages to find the strength to carry on regardless, even laughing and having fun whenever she can. Her resilience is mind-boggling and one can only stand back in awe. I commend Iris for telling her incredible story and Richard von Hippel, for writing it down. I found it extremely inspirational.

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After All: a memoir

Leila Summers : February 13, 2013 2:22 am : Book Reviews

After All: a memoir by David E. Tillman

Book Description:
After All is the heart-wrenching story of a man and his daughter rebuilding their lives after the tragic loss of their beloved wife and mother. Told with a mixture of humor and sadness, author David Tillman makes you a part of his two-year grieving and healing process. Powerful personal anecdotes and the innocence of a world seen through a child’s eyes are brought to life. Filled with familiar thoughts and emotions, anyone who has ever lost someone dear to them will find this courageous memoir well worth the read.

My Review: * * * * *
The author, David Tillman, shares the story of the first two years of being a widower and newly single dad to Kayly following the death of his wife, Minda, to cancer. The story is well written with gentle honesty, and I found myself nodding along in understanding, awed by the author’s parenting, and at times laughing out loud at the humor in a single sentence. The story is told in such a way that I felt as if I knew the characters. I have no doubt that Kayly will grow up to be just as beautiful a person as her mother. I will definitely be reading more from this author in the future.

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An Uncommon Friendship

Leila Summers : December 23, 2012 2:11 am : Book Reviews

An Uncommon Friendship: a memoir of love, mental illness, and friendship by Monique Colver

Book Description:
When Stewart Young becomes mentally ill with a variety of disorders, his mind betraying and lying to him, he fights his demons in an attempt to save his own life. His wife, Monique, has her own demons, but she is determined to keep him safe. When his infatuation with other women brings the marriage to a screeching halt, she continues to take care of him, and their friendship remains strong, despite the isolation, rapid mood swings, hallucinations, and the occasional psychotic episode. Through a combination of diary entries, emails, and narrative, we see the progression of his illness, and the recovery that appears so close, yet is so far away. More than a tale of mental illness and the havoc it wreaks on those who have it and those who love them, it’s a story of friendship, and what we’re willing to do for those we love.

My Review: * * * * *
I found this book truly fascinating, perhaps because I am so interested in the way the mind works, as well as in relationships between people. In other words, humankind.

This story offers a remarkable glimpse into the, often unfamiliar, world of mental illness described in great detail from two very different perspectives. One is the narrator, wife, friend and caregiver, Monique, and the other is her mentally ill husband, Stewart. When Monique married Stewart, he showed no signs of being mentally ill. After he became ill with a series of disorders and they separated, their relationship continued on as a deep and loving friendship, as Monique moved from wife to caregiver. Though she had many of her own struggles, she became a rock of support and constant carer to her best friend. The interspersed emails and stories from Stewart provide an interesting insight into the thoughts and feelings of a mentally ill, yet intelligent and coherent individual. I understood exactly why Monique loved Stewart so much. He was a special guy.

Some sensitive readers may struggle with the many times that Stewart cuts his arms in an effort to ground himself. Though this is an integral part of the story and trying to understand certain aspects of mental illness.

Well written book with an unexpected ending.

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The Truth About Butterflies

Leila Summers : October 20, 2012 2:04 am : Book Reviews

The Truth About Butterflies: A Memoir by Nancy Stephan

Book Description:
They belong to each other, Nancy and Nicole–mother and daughter. They’re two halves of a whole, two facets of the same breath–until the day Nicole exhales. . . and never inhales again. After the death of her daughter, and quickly losing her own battle with grief, Nancy decides to move from the house she can no longer bear to live in. While packing, she comes across a box in the attic. Inside this box, Nancy uncovers treasures she didn’t know existed and evidence that her and her daughter’s lives had been more divinely entwined than she could’ve imagined. The Truth About Butterflies is a true story of grief, hope, and transformation, and a single enduring truth: Life cannot be restrained by death.

My Review: * * * * *
I honestly thought this book was incredible. There is something so warm and real about it, as if I was sitting down with the author Nancy and she was telling me her story over tea, and even as the daylight faded, more tea was poured and the story continued, because I wanted to hear more about her late daughter Nicole. And by the end, as sad as the story is, I am smiling with her and I feel as though I have met Nicole and I love her too.

This story is told with such grace that, even for those with different or no spiritual beliefs, the author’s faith in God is simply part of the story and is endearing rather than offensive.

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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Goodbye Junie Moon

Leila Summers : September 7, 2012 3:01 am : Book Reviews

Goodbye Junie Moon by June Collins

Book Description:
A curvaceous Australian dancer entertains the troops in Vietnam. She uncovers a get rich quick scheme involving the sergeants running the American Army clubs. Discovering that she has reported them to the CID, they place a high price on her head. She learns they are watching the only airport out, preventing her escape. Then fate steps in, triggering an unexpected turn of events. Goodbye Junie Moon is a memoir which reads like fiction and is guaranteed to keep you turning the page. This true story is verified by numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Racy, action-filled, heart stopping, poignant; it is all of these!

My Review: * * * * *
An incredible story by an incredible woman! The author, June Collins, draws the reader into her fascinating world, seamlessly transferring between alternative chapters of growing up in Australia in the 50s and leading up to working as an entertainer for the troops in the Vietnam War. Her childhood, though fascinating in itself, is relevant to satisfy the curiosity of how June ended up where she did. I was awed at her bravery and empathy as she preferred to support the men in the thick of battle rather than sitting on the sidelines. June provides an authentic insider view into the Vietnam war from a different perspective which taught me more than any historical account. For that alone, the book is worth the read. However, there is so much more to be gained. This is a personal story, and June does not hold back, being extremely honest about her connections with married men as well as her occasional stripping. She does not judge anyone and accepted the war and all its horrors at face value, and as a reader, I held the same respect for her. Being a whistleblower and uncovering the corruption is just the cherry on top. This book is educational, entertaining, fascinating, heartfelt and the story is well crafted. Read it!

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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Praise of Motherhood

Leila Summers : August 5, 2012 1:14 am : Book Reviews

Praise of Motherhood by Phil Jourdan

Disclaimer: I was given this book to review as part of a blog tour.


Book Description:
When Phil Jourdan’s mother died suddenly in 2009, she left behind a legacy of kindness and charity — but she also left unanswered some troubling questions. Jourdan’s recollections of his struggles with psychosis, and his reconstructions of conversations with his enigmatic mother, form the core of this memoir. Psychoanalysis, poetry and confession all merge to tell the story of an ordinary woman whose death turned her into a symbol for extraordinary motherhood.

My Review: * * *
This story begins when the author, Phil Jourdan, receives news that his mother, Sophia, is in hospital and that he needs to fly home to Portugal right away. By the time he and his sister arrive, it is too late. Sophia’s tragic death from an unexpected brain aneurysm leaves Phil feeling completely out at sea. This book is his way of trying to make some kind of sense of the enormous loss of a woman who played such a supportive and pivotal role in his life.

We as readers become privy to an extremely honest and introspective reflection of the author’s mental anguishes. He describes his mother as a kind and long suffering woman who was a pillar of strength through his, sometimes lengthy, recollections of his psychologically unstable adolescence. The first two chapters were awkward for me, but by chapter three, I got into the flow. The bulk of the story weaves in and out of past and present; reality and imagination; memories and myths. At times it is not immediately clear who is speaking, or whether it is in fact an actual conversation or one that never took place other than in the author’s own head. Though I found the dialogue in the book particularly authentic, the lack of punctuation did bother me somewhat.

Throughout the book, you feel the intense pain of the loss of a woman who was snatched from the author far too soon. She was his hiding place from the storms that raged within him, his emotional struggles, and constant anxiousness about the world. I felt that some of the rantings were unnecessary to the reader, though they probably provided the author with an outlet. Particularly toward the end of the book when he lashes out at various people. Though I found this distasteful, I understood it to be a part of the questioning and grieving process.

Praise of Motherhood is a very human portrayal of loss and how those left behind have to muddle through it on their own. In the end, the reader is left with the importance of appreciating those who are dear to us while we still have the chance. On a personal note, this book provided me with some insight into the mental anguishes of an anxious and psychotic adolescent who reminded me all too well of my late husband, also a musician and a writer. As readers, we never walk away from a memoir untouched.

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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Dancing in Heaven

Leila Summers : July 10, 2012 5:36 pm : Book Reviews

Dancing in Heaven – a sister’s memoir by Christine Grote

Book Description:
Born with severe brain damage, my sister Annie never outgrew the needs of an infant. She didn’t walk or talk. Our parents fed her, changed her clothes, and lifted her from her bed to her wheelchair and back for her entire life of 51 years. Dancing in Heaven is an inspirational story about my sister Annie s life, death, and her significance in the lives of those of us who loved her and others who were touched by her. This memoir provides a window into my family’ s life with a severely disabled member. But more importantly, Dancing in Heaven is a testimony to the basic intrinsic value of human life.

My Review: * * * * *
This is a particularly well-written and absorbing account of the life and death of Annie and her loving and devoted family, as told by her sister Christine. Born with severe brain damage, Annie never outgrew the needs of an infant. She couldn’t walk or talk for her entire life of 51 years. In the book, Christine shares how everyone who crossed Annie’s path was touched and I was no exception. Annie crept into my heart and I felt myself going through many emotions as her life on this earth slowly ebbed away. The author crosses between past and present flawlessly. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the entire family and I’m quite sure that Annie is now, dancing in heaven. And through this book, Annie will continue to touch hearts just as she always did. A true example of unconditional love all round.

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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Wordjazz for Stevie

Leila Summers : July 10, 2012 5:20 pm : Book Reviews

Wordjazz for Stevie: How a Profoundly Handicapped Girl Gave Her Father the Gifts of Pain and Love by Jonathan Chamberlain

Book Description:
How could a girl born with a genetic defect – who later suffered brain damage leaving her blind, epileptic and physically handicapped, and who lived only eight years – change the world? Wordjazz for Stevie is a letter written to Stevie by her father after she had died to try to explain to her (and the world) the meaning of her life. This is a book that everyone should read. It could change your life too.

My Review: * * * * *
“Even now when you’re not here to be hugged I close my eyes and wrap my arms around a volume of space and pretend you’re in it and that I can feel your weight.”

This heartfelt memoir is a beautifully written tribute from the author, Jonathan Chamberlain, to his late eight-year-old daughter, Stevie. Stevie was born with Down Syndrome and when she was only six months old, suffered serious complications after heart surgery, which left her severely handicapped. Through all her difficulties (of which there were so many), Stevie’s short life was nonetheless filled with love and the joy she found through music. The author speaks openly of his pain and loss, not only for his daughter, but also for his wife Bern, who died of cancer shortly afterward, leaving him as single father to their four-year-old son, Patrick. Out of these tragedies, Jonathan searches for answers, trying to make sense of this world and the circumstances which seem cruel and senseless. He speaks with brutal honesty, yet tenderly as he takes us deep into his thoughts and emotions, struggles and questions, to a point where we are left with a deep message of gratitude for those we have loved and lost.

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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A Cure for Emma

Leila Summers : July 10, 2012 5:09 pm : Book Reviews

A Cure For Emma: One Mother’s Journey to Oz by Julie Colvin

Book Description:
A Cure for Emma chronicles a mother’s quest to heal her child from a nearly invisible disease: type 1 diabetes. Millions of parents around the world will relate to Julie Colvin’s roller coaster of despair, frustration, and hope when her daughter Emma was diagnosed with this life-threatening, incurable nightmare. Overnight, Julie left her medical career to become a full-time surrogate pancreas for her daughter. A Cure for Emma is also a spiritual look at one woman’s journey from anguish to hope. Writing with humor and honesty, this devoted mother offers a warm, revealing look at the spiritual questions disease forces into one’s life. We follow Julie’s quest to cut a deal with her analytical, scientifically-trained mind and investigate a world that could not be proven in a lab. While seeking a cure for Emma she risks everything, including her marriage, to follow a path of discovery and wonder.

My Review: * * * * *
I had the opportunity of working on Julie’s website and through this, the privilege of getting to know her online. I watched, with admiration, her commitment to her family and to writing her story. When I received a copy of her book in the post two years later, I was eager to curl up and devour it and I was not disappointed! This book is not simply about a mother’s struggle of coming to terms with the shocking diagnosis of her daughter’s incurable Type I diabetes. It is so much more than that. Julie takes us on a well-written and personal journey through tragedy into self-discovery. It is a story of courage and spiritual awakening as Julie discovers her own healing in her quest to find a cure for her daughter. Through Julie’s willingness to be open, she has become a teacher and healer to all of us. By the time I reached the end, it felt as though I had walked through the magical pages of the book with Julie, Emma, Will, Marc and Mojo. I hope, one day, to have the privilege of meeting them all face to face.

Visit Amazon for more information or to buy this book.

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