Category Archives: Memoir

Review: Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 13, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1400068622
  • Source: Publisher

In September of 2001, when the mother of twenty-year-old Justin St. Germain is murdered at the hands of her fifth husband in Tombstone, AZ, it is written off as “A real-life old West murder mystery.”  Despite its famous history, Tombstone is still a small-town, and rumors about Debbie St. Germain’s lifestyle begin to escalate.  Justin, now living in California, returns to Tombstone after his mother’s death, his life now forever segmented into “before” and “after” his mother’s murder.

Justin rushed to escape his former life in Tombstone as soon as he was able, creating a new life in San Francisco. Yet this tragedy forces his previous life to come flooding back to him.  His mother, a former army paratrooper, was an incredibly strong and independent, working hard and sacrificing a great deal to give Justin and his brother a better life. Her murder forces Justin to re-examine what he thought of his mother and the life they had together.  Desperate to find answers to the cause of her death, Justin re-unites with his mother’s former husbands, men who had a fleeting involvement in his life. In his search he discovers and realizes the true meaning of family. all the while hoping that he has become the man his mother would have wanted him to be.

On the surface, one may be lead to believe that this is true crime novel, but instead it is far more than that. As Justin uncovers information about his mother’s life and a myriad of men who passed through their lives, it’s hard to avoid the realization that his mother’s life was far different than what he perceived.  What caused her to go from one man to another, forcing Justin and his brother to move from home to home? In the end, her marriage to her fifth husband was so different than the others, the two never leaving each other in the last few days of her life. The more he examines his mother’s life, and his own, the more questions go unanswered.

Giving the setting, it’s hard not to compare his mother’s death to the infamous shoot-out that transpired in Tombstone ages ago, not necessarily due to the specifics but because of the aftermath. In both cases, people seem far more mesmerized by the killers than the victims themselves. Justin’s mission, in this emotional and enlightening memoir, is to bring to light his mother’s life for fear that it may lie buried like so much of Tombstone’s past.  A town riddled with a past full of gun violence, Justin can’t ignore the fact that his mother is just another one of Tombstone’s victims.

I cannot begin to summarize how mesmerized I was by Justin’s memoir.  From page one, when his mother’s death is relayed, I was transfixed and almost hypnotized by the emotion relayed in Justin’s words as he learned of, and dealt with, his mother’s death.  He was never really a “Mama’s boy,” always seeking independence and escape from his life in Tombstone, yet his mother’s death lassos him back into this life he once despised.  He now feels guilt for being the son that escaped, “forcing” his mom to give up so much in order to grant him the life he felt he deserved.  Discovering so much about his mother and her many husbands, he has a reawakening of sorts, finally seeing through the tinted glasses he’d worn all his life, for the first time truly understanding the woman his mother was, and grew to be. At the same time he is transformed from a confused and floundering victim to a self-realized young man.

An incredibly remarkable memoir that melds past with present, Son of a Gun will force readers to reflect upon their own life and family and the choices and the sacrifices they make all in the name of family. Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Be sure to check out the other stops along the way!

Audio Book Review: Elsewhere by Richard Russo

  • Listening Length: 7 hours and 32 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • Release Date: October 30, 2012
  • Source: Library

Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo follows eight tremendous works of fiction with a truly rewarding memoir of his life in Elsewhere. Fans of his novels will recognize his hometown of Gloversville, NY, a town once known for producing quality leather products. By the time Russo was a young child, the town was reduced to poverty, many of the residents sick with illnesses caused by working in the glovery.

During Russo’s childhood, Gloversville was a close-knit community, the residents bonding together in poverty. That said, Russo waited decades to write about his hometown, only inspired after he was invited to participate in Granta’s “going home” issue.

…this isn’t a story I tried to remember; it’s one I’d have given a good deal to forget. But despite my impressive amnesiac gifts, it refused to be forgotten, and I hope that that’s because it’s true in the ways that matter most.

As a young adult, Russo and his mother, Jean,  live in an apartment in the upper level of his grandparents home. Ready to flee the life they were dealt due to Russo’s compulsive-gambling father, Jean joins Russo when he drives across the country to attend school at University of Arizona. He doesn’t know this at the time, but this leap of faith is just the beginning of a host of moves that he and his mother take. Upon arrival, Russo assumes his mother has found employment with General Electric, the company Jean had worked for for years, a job at which she was paid quite the healthy salary. Unfortunately this is not the case and instead Jean must start from scratch with her job search. With each position she finds, rather than celebrating the opportunity she compares each job with her role at GE.  The stress of the move and the hunt for employment and an acceptable apartment unleashes in Jean what Russo and his family refereed to as “nerves.” She relies entirely on Russo (who she affectionately refers to as “Ricko-Mio”) for everything, from running her to the grocery store to a host of a number of errands.

When Russo obtains his Ph.D. in English and opts to move from Phoenix, leaving his mother behind. He marries and has children and the brief stint of independence from his mother ends and she follows him back across the country, ultimately ending in Maine.  It was as if she thought of them as one individual, Russo comments, “one entity, oddly cleaved by time and gender, like fraternal twins somehow born twenty-five years apart, destined in some strange way to share a common destiny.”

Throughout these numerous moves, Jean’s spells of “nerves” continue. Thankfully, Russo marries an incredibly patient and understanding wife, Barbara, who unfortunately comes to realize that every shift in their life must take into account the well-being and status of her mother-in-law. Jean’s condition actually worsens, her doctor ultimately prescribing her a host of medications, including Valium and Phenobarbital. To make matters worse, Jean holds back medications when she thinks she’s doing well, then compensating with multiple doses when her nerves act up. Unfortunately, it isn’t until years later, after she passes, that Russo really understands the depth to her illness. It wasn’t simply a case of nerves, but instead an undiagnosed case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Throughout the novel, one can’t help but get frustrated with Russo’s mother and the trials and tribulations she forces upon her son. That said, a truly profound turning point comes upon and after her death when Russo realizes he may have ignored warning signs that would have allowed her to be treated for her illness.

At the beginning of this memoir, Russo indicates:

What follows in this memoir – I don’t know what else to call it – is a story of intersections: of place and time, of private and public, of linked destinies and flawed devotion. It’s more my mother’s story than mine, but it’s mine, too, because until just a few years ago she was seldom absent from my life.

These two lines perfectly capture the true essence of this memoir. After his mother’s death, Russo still couldn’t comprehend what an impact he had on his mother’s life. Even as an adult he feels he was the root of her pain:

From the time I was a boy I understood that my mother’s health, her well-being, was in my hands. How often over the years did she credit me, or my proximity, with restoring her to health? My rock, as she was so fond of saying, always there when she needed me most. My own experience, however, had yielded a different truth — that I could easily make things worse, but never better.

 

The moment in which Russo finally realizes how truly integral and valuable to his mother’s life is truly heart-wrenching and beautiful.This side of Russo: completely honest, almost painfully so, gives a whole new depth to my view of him as a writer. Russo doesn’t hold back in admitting how much his mother influenced his future and success as a writer:

Reading was not a duty but a reward….From her I intuited a vital truth: most people are trapped in a solitary existence, a life circumscribed by want and failures of imagination, limitations from which readers are exempt. You can’t make a writer without first making a reader, and that’s what my mother made me.

I’ve been a fan of Russo’s writing for years. Listening to him narrate his own memoir allowed me to see a completely new, almost naive, side to this truly talented writer. His narration is truly amazing, while it’s a given that an author should narrate his/her memoir that is not always the case. That said, I don’t believe this book would have had such a strong impact on me had it been read anyone other than Russo. Listening to this memoir has inspired me to go back an reread his fiction, perhaps viewing his fiction from new eyes, seeing the author in a completely new light. Undoubtedly, this will be one of my favorite memoirs of the year. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: Giving Up the Ghost: A Story about Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted by Eric Nuzum

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback (August 7, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385342438
  • Source: Publisher

Eric Nuzum grew up in Canton, OH in the 1980s. As a high school student, he never really fit in, an oddball of sorts. Not helping his situation were his strange dreams of a young girl, dressed in blue. She would attempt to communicate with him, but her words came out in a jumbled, indecipherable mess. He would relay his experiences with his small group of friends but they all dismissed him, believing this was just another means for him to garner attention. Unable to find anyone to confide in or understand him, Eric ended up in a mental ward, nearly ending his young life.

I was just a teenager, and I was already haunted. Haunted by my own disappointment. Haunted by a disconnection from the world around me. Haunted by a festering depression. Haunted by loneliness.

The one friend he had was Laura. A crush of sorts, she was the only thing that kept him grounded.

Years later, as an adult, Eric continued to have a fear of ghosts. He can’t stand the sight of closed doors, never knowing what awaits him on the other side. Just looking at closed doors fills him with an overwhelming feeling of dread. Not helping his state of mind are the memories of his youth. Recollecting on his memories of high school, he is saddened to realize that many of those close to him became ghosts themselves.

Desperate to face his fears, Eric recruits a motley group of individuals and travels to some of America’s most haunted places. After visiting a number of these locations, he begins to wonder if it is really ghosts that he is afraid of, or something much deeper. Was the girl in blue a true ghost, or a symptom of his weakened mental state? Is it possible that she is simply a visual representation of all the ghosts that reside within him?

On the surface, Giving Up the Ghost may appear to simply be a young man’s obsession with ghosts and their existence. Ultimately, however, it is much more than that. Instead, it is the author’s journey to discovering himself, accepting all his failures in life, perceived and actual. He skillfully portrays his emotional state of mind, the anguish and pain he suffers come seeping from the pages. A truly remarkable memoir, Nuzum doesn’t sugar coat anything, instead giving an honest and straight forward account of his youth.

In the end, what is most remarkable of all is how Nuzum flourished and excelled as an adult; he now works for NPR and has appeared on CNN. His success, in my opinion, can be a sign of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, for others suffering as he did.

Bottom line: Giving Up the Ghost is a truly compelling, addictive, and yes, ultimately hopeful, memoir of a young man suffering from ghosts in his own closet. Highly recommended.

Check out the playlist Eric created to accompany his novel. As a child of the 80s, many of these songs were a blast from the past, taking me back to my own youth!

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Be sure to check out the other stops along the way!

Review: In My Father’s Country by Saima Wahab

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (April 24, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0307884945
  • Source: Publisher

Saima Wahab was just three years old when her father was arrested by the KGB at their home in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This was the last time she would ever see him, this action just the start of Saima’s painful early memories. Caught in the middle of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Saima’s mother was forced to raise Saima and her five siblings on her own.

When Saima was fifteen it was decided that Saima should go live with an uncles in Portland, OR so that she may receive an education.  Despite having to learn a completely new language Saima was able to graduate high school in just three years. While her education seemed to flourish,  Saima found it difficult to blend into the American culture. She also found it near impossible to blend her Afghan roots and culture with her new life in America.  This caused a great deal of turmoil for her emotionally.

Her hopes and prayers were answered in 2004 when she received a phone call, offering her a job as a translator to assist the troops stationed in Afghanistan.  In a sense her life had come full-circle, returning to the land of her birth, her role to enhance communications with U.S. forces and the local people.

Saima’s journey, from her departure from Afghanistan as a teen to her return as an adult, is truly a remarkable one. As citizens of the United States, the only view we get of this country is what the news stations decide to share with us. We often only get to see the dark and devastating aspects of a war-torn nation. We don’t get to drill down to the grass roots level and see what beauty does exist among on the turmoil.

Saima’s story opened up my eyes to a whole new world, a whole new Afghanistan. I am forever thankful for this glimpse at a nation I admit to being ignorant about. Additionally, the risks she took in order to fulfill her mission were quite high, there were many times she didn’t know whether or not she would come back alive. Saima’s story, her struggles, are empowering.  This, by far, is one of the most memorable memoirs I have ever read, Saima’s strength and dedication proving that so much is possible when one individual has a passion so great that it triumphs adversity. Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please check out the other stops in this tour on the tour web page.

 

Frightful Friday: A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of A Murder by Karen Spears Zacharias

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is actually a memoir, somehow making it even more chilling: A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder by Karen Spears Zacharias.

 

  • Hardcover: 325 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing (April 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 159692375X
  • Source: Meryl Zegarek Public Relations, Inc

Karen Zacharias is an investigative journalist living a relatively peaceful life in Corvallis, Oregon.  Never could she have imagined that she would become involved in the murder case of Karly Sheehan, the three-year-old daughter of a troubled woman Zacharias had once welcomed into her home and considered her to be part of her family.

Having parted ways with Karly’s mom, Sarah, years ago,  Zacharias was shocked to learn of Karly’s death.  Upon learning more, she discovered that Karly was beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend. Stunned into action, Zacharias immerses herself in the investigation, contacting local police, Karly’s father, and other individuals close to the Sheehan family, desperate for an explanation. Having a personal knowledge of the type of woman Sarah Sheehan was, it didn’t take long for Zacharias to realize she was somehow involved. Slowly, the police (and Zacharias following closely behind) unveil a history of abuse involving Karly, an abuse that while reported was never really acted upon by the authorities.

Sharing Karly’s story soon became Zacharias’ passion, her obsession, knowing how many children in this country are victims of abuse and neglect. Additionally, she witnessed the love Karly’s father, David Sheehan, had for his daughter. Once thought to be the source of Karly’s abuse, David Sheehan had been through hell and back after the death of his daughter. Zacharias saw this pain and love in David’s eyes and knew that moment that Karly’s story had to be told.

This is certainly not a light subject matter, but regardless is a book that should be read. So many children in our country, a country that is so rich in freedom, are forgotten, lost victims of abuse. Zacharias doesn’t sugar coat anything, using her skill as an investigative reporter to find and report on the facts.  Her dedication to this cause and her love for this young girl without a doubt impacts her feelings about this case, yet she doesn’t allow it to influence her reporting.

A Silence of Mockingbirds should be a wake up call for as all, a call to action to do something about this epidemic of childhood abuse in our country. We shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up if we fear a child is being abused, for our voice may be that child’s only hope. This is a book I beg of you to read for it has affected me like none other.  Yes, it’s heartbreaking, it will make you cry from deep within your soul. It is also masterful and compelling, a book you’ll read in one sitting, then immediately rise up and want to make a difference, a call to change!

It is thanks to this book that I have volunteered to read with the children of abuse. While I may not be able to erase the abuse they faced, I can do my part in improving the life they have now. Highly, highly recommended.

Listen to Diane Rehm interviewing Karen Zacharias about the book.

 

 

Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0061958336
  • Source: Publisher

In the late 1960s, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue, gave up their life in regular society to move to a rural rugged coastland in Maine. They purchased 60 acres of land, planning to exist solely on the crops they grew. They were inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, authors  of Living the Good Life, a couple well known as proponents of living off the land. Coleman’s parents literally lived off of what they established themselves, including a wood cabin they built from hand, devoid of the conveniences of plumbing, electricity, etc. It was here they raised Melissa and her two sisters.

Melissa was born within months of this move to the rural life. She wasn’t raised as many children were, instead of close friends she relied on farm animals around her to keep her company. It wasn’t too long before she was graced with a younger sister to keep her company in the open expanse of nature around her. For the sake of living off of nature, her parents swore off common practices, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, and the like.

This life her parents established for them was not an easy one. Her father worked endlessly to produce crops that, in turn, her mother diligently prepared for storage in their food cellar. Her father became obsessed with providing for his family. Unfortunately, the perfect simple life they craved for wasn’t the life they obtained. Soon the media learned of this family’s farming movement, and the idyllic life they craved to create began to crumble. When a horrific tragedy befalls the family, this facade of a happy life the family created began to fall apart. Instances of mental instability in Melissa’s mother became more prevalent, “checking out” when things got too rough. The patriarch of the family, the proponent behind this movement, begins to falter in his passion and his dedication to his family. By the fall of 1978, this life they created together, out of their own sweat and tears, is nonexistent.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak is Melissa’s own account of life growing up in a homestead family. Oftentimes, I found myself forgetting that it was her own life she was reliving, for the emotion usually associated with this sort of retelling was absent. I saw this as a clear indication of the sort of family she grew up in, a family more focused on nurturing the land than the members of the family itself.

Knowing from the premise of the book of the sort of tragedy that would befall the family, I became frustrated when it wasn’t brought up until the last 1/3 of the book. That said, the story Coleman portrays is an incredibly inspirational, yet also devastating, book. I was rooting for the family, so set on providing a good life for their children. As I watched the structure, the backbone of the family start to crumble, I was devastated. I wanted the Coleman family to thrive, to prove all those who doubted them that they could seek everything they needed from the land around them.

In today’s society, when we rely so much on technology to exist, I believe it is important to look back at what life was like without these materialistic items.  Coleman’s memoir gives us a glimpse of this simpler life, a life not too far in the past. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the tour page for additional stops in this tour.

Review-Girls Like Us: A Memoir by Rachel Lloyd

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0061582069
  • Source: Publisher

Rachel Lloyd, after winding up as a victim of commercial sexual exploitation as a teen, eventually breaks free of this life, striving to help other girls in a similar situation.  She forms GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), an organization founded to provide emotional support, life counseling, to young girls who are victims of sexual exploitation.

The majority of the citizens of this country, myself included, are completely oblivious to the sheer number of young women, in many cases still children, who get sucked into the sex trade world. The statistics Lloyd provides are absolutely shocking. According to a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study, 200,000-300,000 children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in this country, each year. Our country, not some third-world country. A country in which we are granted freedoms and rights unlike any other.

In her memoir, Lloyd focuses on the factors that drive young women to this lifestyle, including abuse of all varieties, including sexual, physical and mental. To supplement this information, Lloyd gives examples of her own experiences, and the experiences of those girls aided by GEMS, that relates to each of the risk factors.

Frighteningly, our media perpetuates this abuse of women with songs praising the role of a pimp. Lloyd herself is outraged when watching the Academy Awards to learn that the song “It’s Hard Out Here for A Pimp” wins Best Original Song.  Here is just a sampling of the lyrics:

Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they’ll both do you
That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin’
Gotta keep my hustle tight, makin’ change off these women, yeah

Lloyd does share stories of success, of young women who have freed themselves from this life, to become successful, respectful, women. Lloyd herself is a prime example, yet unfortunately not nearly enough women have access to an organization like GEMS.  They are unable to free themselves of the abuse from their family members, from the pimp who profits from their trade.

The author provides the reader a no-holds-barred look at her own life, even admitting to the fact that, unlike many of the women her organization supports, she made the decision to enter the life. Many of the women stuck in the sex trade have no other options, were forced to participate by family members, were unknowingly recruited by a pimp, etc. She admits to using the information she gains from these girls in order to understand what happened to her, hoping that if she is able to explain how/what happened to them, she could discover how she wound up in the life as well.

The success of Lloyd’s organization is largely due to the judge-free advice they give to each of the girls they assist. The don’t find reasons to blame the girls for their actions, accuse them of choosing this life. This young women, some as young as eleven and twelve years old, are victims. Victims to the world they were forced to grow up in, a world they cannot easily escape. GEMS  provides them with the healthy attention they are unable to get elsewhere, a shoulder to cry on, a female mentor to look up to.

This is not a book that I recommend anyone attempt to read in one sitting. I myself had to take frequent breaks to bring myself back to the real world, look at my children and see their happiness. Recalling then that many of the young women referenced in this book don’t have that opportunity to step away into a happier life. That said, I think this is a book that should be read by women from all walks of life: mothers, young teens, social workers and the like. It is a book that will continue to haunt me, will reappear in my mind when I’m walking through the streets of a large city, spotting young victims in the street. Highly recommended.

A special thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to visit the tour page and check out the other stops in the tour.

Rachel Lloyd testifies before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law on the commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of children.

Review: Huck by Janet Elder

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0767931351
  • Source: Publisher

Michael was a preschooler when the pleas for a  dog began.  He went as far as creating a PowerPoint presentation covering the reasons why he needed a dog.  Despite his incessant begging, his parents Rich & Janet stood strong. They simply couldn’t juggle what is required to do to own a dog with their already crazy lives. Living in New York City made things harder; walking a dog wasn’t as simple as letting the dog out back or taking a quick walk around the park. It required leaving their small apartment, venturing down dozens of floors & venturing out into the busy city streets.

The pleading continued into Michael’s youth and young teen years.  It wasn’t until a life-altering event changed the family’s life that Janet decided: We need to get Michael a dog.  The new puppy would bring happiness and contentment back into their lives.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, The Elders welcome Huck, a red-haired toy poodle, into their lives.  He was full of energy and life, instantly winning the hearts of the entire family.

A few months later, Michael & his parents decide to head to baseball spring training.  They leave Huck with Janet’s sister, a family used to owning and caring for pets.

It’s not until a few days into the trip that they receive the phone call: Huck slipped through a space in their fence and escaped.  Not only is Huck in an unfamiliar area, Michael and his parents are hundreds of miles away.

It is within these first few moments that the Elders start to feel the true power of human kindness.  It doesn’t stop there. Once they get home, throughout their search of Huck, they meet dozens of people, willing to devote their free time & energy to help find Huck.  From random people on the road to police officers, the Elders are given a glimpse of the human kindness that still prevails in today’s world.

Let it be known that I typically don’t review “pet books.”  Books about animals of any sort usually have me sobbing within minutes.  I have a special place in my heart for dogs (and cats!). Yet for some reason, perhaps it was Huck’s adorable image on the book cover, I said yes.

Even before Huck is introduced to the family I had a vested interest in this family.  They were a strong family, one that continued to stand strong despite the tests forced upon them. When Huck came around, he provided their lives with a love they’ve never felt before.  When he ran away, they were forced to deal with yet another heart-breaking blow.  Yet, they continued to stay strong, powered by the generosity of complete strangers, and they trudged on.
Huck is a truly heartwarming book, a perfect read for this time of year when everyone is reflecting on the gifts they have in life. I read it in an afternoon, on almost one sitting (I did have to get up and walk my own dog, Jack, a few times.) Highly recommended for all pet-lovers, those overcoming breast cancer, or simply someone just looking for a heartwarming, hopeful read.

The publisher has provided me three copies of HUCK to give away! To enter, please fill out the form below. Open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck to all who enter!

Review: Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

  • Hardcover:256 pages
  • Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The (August 23, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 1594202990
  • Source: Publisher

In the sequel to Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, which Fuller’s family refers to as “the Awful Book”, the author once again returns to Africa to detail and describe the childhood of her mother in Africa, her father’s in England, and her own childhood, set in the war-torn Africa.

Her mother, or Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she preferred to to introduce herself as, and her father, Tim, experienced a great deal of tragedy attempting to have a farm of their own in Africa. It was their life’s dream to do so, Alexandra never really understanding this until she gets a detailed portrayal of their lives.  Despite being forced to live through several wars, they still loved Africa and would sacrifice tremendously to keep the land they cherished.

Nicola suffered with bouts of depression and a literal mental breakdown.  Having read what she was forced to ordeal helps explain that better; had I been in a similar situation I doubt I could have done it.  From a young age, she was always a feisty little girl, always reluctant to succumb to a life others thought best for her, a life as a secretary or similar.  This book seems to almost be an apology to her mother for her previous book in which her mother wasn’t cast in the most positive of lights.  The reader gets a glimpse of her past, hereby validating the woman she is now.

If she had known then the score and epth of the tragedy that was to come, Mum might have borne the insults of her childhood with more fortitude, but the pathos and the gift of life is that we cannot know which will be our defining heartbreak or our most victorious joy.

Nicola was an incredibly brave and strong individual, never bowing down to fear:

In her view, the immediate peril of a situation is always weighed against the glamorous obituary that might be written for you if the thing killed you.

Fuller lessens the severity and tragedy, in a sense, by sprinkling bits of humor and retellings of humorous family stories.  Family pets were treated more lovingly than the children.  A name would pop up, and it wouldn’t be until paragraphs later that the name did not refer to a person, but a regaled pet instead.

Not only a retelling of a family’s history, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness provides a completely candid and rare history of Africa itself.  The civil war raging on around them was brutal, as was the racism that part of Africa itself, existing for so long that it had become engrained into the culture of the society. It’s rare to be able to experience the tragedies that took place in Africa at this time, I’m truly thankful to author for providing readers with a glimpse of this integral part of African history.

Since it is a sequel, it really is best to read the previous book as the author assumes you know (and can recall) the detals set forth in the book.  Luckily, I had the opportunity to reunite myself with Alexandra and her family in   Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight before starting this book.

This book, as with the previous, will forever resonate within me.  Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is a story of family struggle, tragedy, but ultimately perserverence, a book to which I give my highest recommendation. A must read!

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops along the way:

Wednesday, August 17th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, August 18th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, August 22nd: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 23rd: Lit and Life
Wednesday, August 24th: Jenny Loves to Read
Thursday, August 25th: Silver’s Reviews
Friday, August 26th: A Fanatic’s Book Blog
Monday, August 29th: An English Major’s Junk Food
Tuesday, August 30th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, August 31st: BookNAround
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For more information on the author, be sure to check out her website.

Review: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (January 25, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0061930059
  • Source: Publisher
For ten years, from 1996-2006, Nepal suffered through a horrendous civil war. Young children were taken from their parents and forced to serve the Maoist rebels.  Child traffickers took advantage of many of these families, promising a safer life for the children for a large fee.

Conor Grennan, about to turn 30, took a year off  from life to travel around the world.  He thought the idea would sound impressive, but for obvious reasons his friends and family were concerned.  He ended up in Napal, volunteering for an “orphanage”  for children rescued from traffickers called Little Princes.  After spending three months there he returned home, only to realize that part of his soul was still back in Nepal with those children.

He soon returned to Nepal and to the orphans.  Determined to reunite the children with their parents, Conor literally risked his life traveling across the Himalayas and through unmapped areas of the country.  He was forced to deal with a corrupt government to save the lives of these children.

Ultimately, Conor and others  start a non-profit foundation, Next Generation Nepal, with the sole purpose of reuniting parents with their children.

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal is an incredibly uplifting memoir of one man destined to make a difference.  Conor doesn’t sugar-coat or romanticize any of his experiences.  Many experiences are quite dark and brutal.

They way the author details the childen & Nepal itself, the setting comes alive on the pages. The children, despite everything they had been forced to bear, were still incredibly loving & hopeful children.  They’ll leap right into your heart, as they did to mine.

This book left me wanting to do something to make a difference myself, left me wanting to be a better person.

Following is a clip of Conor discussing the children of Little Princes:

A portion of each purchase of Little Princes will be donated to Next Generation Nepal.