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Category: Book Reviews (page 1 of 6)

Book Review: All the News I Need by Joan Frank

My favorite thing about reading is when an author weaves his or her words together to create a movie in my mind. Joan Frank does this exact thing in All the News I Need. Even within the first few pages of this novel, the verisimilitude she creates with her words woven together is quite poetic:

Opens his eyes. Eucalyptus branches. Pearl mist evaporating as he watches, apertures of baby blue. Brine-breath from the beach. Medicine tang of leaves, acorns.

Rubs his cold hands. Should’ve used more lotion this morning. (p.4)

The language in All The News I Need isn’t the only reason that one should pick up a copy of this novel. The tight-knit story delves into the emotions of loss and loneliness while one is surrounded by people. We all have had those times where we’re in a city full of people but still feel like the only ones there. (Or at least, I have had times when I feel like I’m the only person in a room full of talkative people. I just assume others have too!) 

In the midst of their pain, the main characters Frances Ferguson, a snarky widow, and Oliver Gaffney, a seriously introverted gay guy, decide to head to Paris together. This results in a crazy adventure that challenges both of them at their core – especially since they are each so dedicated to their own lives and rituals. 

If you’re looking for a beautifully written novel that gets to the core of some of the deeper questions we experience as people living in a world filled with other people, this book comes highly recommended. Get inside the heads of her characters, enjoy the beautiful word-music, and indulge yourself in this literary work. 

About All the News I Need

• Paperback: 210 pages
• Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (January 17, 2017)

All The News I Need probes the modern American response to inevitable, ancient riddles—of love and sex and mortality.

Frances Ferguson is a lonely, sharp-tongued widow who lives in the wine country. Oliver Gaffney is a painfully shy gay man who guards a secret and lives out equally lonely days in San Francisco. Friends by default, Fran and Ollie nurse the deep anomie of loss and the creeping, animal betrayal of aging. Each loves routine but is anxious that life might be passing by. To crack open this stalemate, Fran insists the two travel together to Paris. The aftermath of their funny, bittersweet journey suggests those small changes, within our reach, that may help us save ourselves—somewhere toward the end.

Praise

“Joan Frank has gifted us with two unforgettable characters in a novel filled to bursting with hard truths and shimmering beauty.” —Bob Wake, Cambridge Book Review

Joan Frank is a human insight machine.” —Carolyn Cooke

“I will be quoting her ‘rules for aging’ at many dinner parties!” —Natalie Serber

Purchase Links

University of Massachusetts Press | Amazon*

Joan FrankAbout Joan Frank

Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction and a collection of essays on the writing life. She lives in Northern California with her husband, playwright Bob Duxbury. Visit her at www.joanfrank.org.

*This is an affiliate link; making a purchase using this link will give me a small commission at no additional cost to yourself. Such purchases help me to support my family and keep this blog running. 

Book Tour: Evanthia’s Gift & Waiting for Aegina

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of my favorite classic films. I love the story that is woven in the movie, and I think the family saga is really fascinating. It’s a peek inside Greek-American culture, and it’s a tale that weaves together the tension between tradition and modernity. In light of this, when I had the opportunity to review Effie Kammenou’s first two books in The Gift Saga, I was happy to do so. Both books deal with that same Greek-American look at life, and the interplay of family members.

Unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Evanthia’s Gift & Waiting for Aegina are family sagas that take place over the course of several decades. Whereas we get a piece of Toula Portokalos’s life in the film, we get to know the Fotopolous family in-depth. This epic look at the lives of these people is riveting. In the vein of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Kammenou weaves together the stories of family in a way where it’s hard to stop reading. Kammenou grabs you from page on, where she begins the story in the middle – and at the beginning of all stories – with an unplanned pregnancy. 

While many stories lose their luster and movement come a sequel, Waiting for Aegina avoids this problem. The power of friendship and the depth of love that true friends offer is a highlight of this novel. Both of these novels will stick with you long after reading them – they deal with the deep stuff – teen pregnancies, suicide, alcoholism, and more Kammenou doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. 

Evanthia’s Gift  

Date Published: August 7, 2015   

In the year 1956, Anastacia Fotopoulos finds herself pregnant and betrayed, fleeing from a bad marriage. With the love and support of her dear friends Stavros and Soula Papadakis, Ana is able to face the challenges of single motherhood. Left with emotional wounds, she resists her growing affection for Alexandros Giannakos, an old acquaintance. But his persistence and unconditional love for Ana and her child is eventually rewarded and his love is returned. In a misguided, but well-intentioned effort to protect the ones they love, both Ana and Alex keep secrets – ones that could threaten the delicate balance of their family.

The story continues in the 1970’s as Dean and Demi Papadakis, and Sophia Giannakos attempt to negotiate between two cultures. Now Greek-American teenagers, Sophia and Dean, who have shared a special connection since childhood, become lovers. Sophia is shattered when Dean rebels against the pressure his father places on him to uphold his Greek heritage and hides his feelings for her. When he pulls away from his family, culture and ultimately his love for her, Sophia is left with no choice but to find a life different from the one she’d hoped for.

EVANTHIA’S GIFT is a multigenerational love story spanning fifty years and crossing two continents, chronicling the lives that unify two families.

 

Waiting for Aegina

Date Published – January 7, 2016

Book Two in The Gift Saga: The continuation of Evanthia’s Gift…

In 1961, five little girls moved into a suburban neighborhood and became inseparable, lifelong friends. They called themselves the ‘Honey Hill Girls,’ named after the street on which they lived. As teenagers they shared one another’s ambitions and dreams, secrets and heartaches. Now, more than thirty years later, they remain devoted and loyal, supporting each other through triumphs and sorrows.

Evanthia’s Gift follows the life of Sophia Giannakos. In Waiting for Aegina the saga continues from the perspectives of Sophia and her friends as the story drifts back and forth in time, filling in the gaps as the women grow to adulthood.

Naive teenage ideals are later challenged by harsh realities, as each of their lives takes unexpected turns. Now nearing their fiftieth year, Sophia, Demi, Amy, Mindy and Donna stand together through life-altering obstacles while they try to regain the lighthearted optimism of their youth.

About the Author, Effie Kammenou

Effie Kammenou is a believer that it is never too late to chase your dreams, follow your heart or change your career. She is proof of that. At one time, long ago, she’d thought that, by her age, she would have had an Oscar in her hand after a successful career as an actor. Instead, she worked in the optical field for 40 years and is the proud mother of two accomplished young women.

Her debut novel, Evanthia’s Gift, is a women’s fiction multigenerational love story and family saga, influenced by her Greek heritage, and the many real life accounts that have been passed down. She continues to pick her father’s brain for stories of his family’s life in Lesvos, Greece, and their journey to America. Her interview with him was published in a nationally circulated magazine.

Evanthia’s Gift: Book One in The Gift Saga was a 2016 award finalist in the Readers Favorite Awards in the Women’s Fiction category.  Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga is Kammenou’s latest release.

Effie Kammenou is a first generation Greek-American who lives on Long Island with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not writing, or posting recipes on her food blog, cheffieskitchen.wordpress.com, you can find her cooking for her family and friends.

As an avid cook and baker, a skill she learned from watching her Athenian mother, she incorporated traditional Greek family recipes throughout the books. 

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from Hofstra University.

Author Contact Information

Website: (food blog)

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Purchase Links*

Amazon: Evanthia’s Gift

Amazon: Waiting For Aegina 

Landing page for both books –

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Be sure to check these books out! If you have read them, please post your thoughts in the comments section. 

*Affiliate links – should you choose to make a purchase, I will receive a small commission that goes toward supporting my family and the administrative costs of running this blog.

Book Excerpt: Worthy of This Great City

I’m excited to have had the opportunity to read Worthy of This Great City by Mike Miller, and share this excerpt from the book with my readers. As you may know, I was a philosophy major in college, and my MA degree and Ph.D. work are both in philosophy – particularly social and political theory. When I had the call for tour participants come across my email, I was happy to sign up to participate. This book has philosophical undertones, and it’s quite an amusing read – especially in light of our contemporary political climate. If you’ve been waiting for a light-hearted look at politics, ethics, and “the end of virtue,” you won’t want to miss Mike Miller’s Worthy of This Great City.

About the Novel
Literary / Satire

Date Published: October 2016

Publisher: JAM Publishing

Ruth Askew, a minor celebrity, is spouting some highly incompetent philosophy about the end of virtue. Con Manos, a journalist, is attempting to uncover a political scandal or two. Add some undistinguished members of City Council, an easy listening radio station, a disorganized charity, a prestigious Philadelphia newspaper, and any number of lawyers and other professional criminals. In Worthy Of This Great City the compelling stories of two stubborn individualists intertwine in a brisk, scathing satire that invites you to question everything you think you think about today’s most discussed issues: populism and elitism, the possibility of truth, the reach of profound stupidity, and the limits of personal responsibility in these post-truth, morally uncertain times.

About the Author

If you know my website and Twitter addresses (asmikemiller.com and asmikemiller, respectively), you must realize Mike Miller is only an author name. It’s not a matter of privacy 
or secrecy; anybody can find me with minimal effort. It’s about keeping things separate. My writing is about what appears on the page. It’s not about my personal politics or religion or history. 
 
Worthy Of This Great City is a B-game book. I’m ambiguous about this, being interested in money like most people, but I don’t want to compete with a slick professional cover or smooth editing so I’ve stuck to a sort of reasonable, human middle ground. I value those things for what they are, of course, but I see them as artifacts, part of a system of publishing that fought like hell for a week’s worth of shelf space, that fought to catch the eye, not the mind or heart. 
 
As my character Con Manos says: “It’s a revolution, isn’t it?” I say: Why fight on the side of the enemy? Why imitate and thus perpetuate a business model that stifles originality? Just to show you can? Unless, of course, you’re fighting to attract the eye, not the mind or heart.
 
I’ve played a joke with this novel – my first, incidentally. Played with the idea of narration and who can be speaking after all. It’s all very literary.
 

Worthy of This Great City 

CHAPTER ONE

Worthy of This Great City Mike MillerEarlier that day, I lay in the shade with only my bare toes exposed to the vicious sun, part of a modest audience similarly disposed beneath the modest fringe of trees surrounding the field. Light fell down through the foliage, thick victorious beams that described powerful angles in their descent inside the usual breathtaking green cathedral. Around me the grass was withered and compressed into a flattened mat over ground still saturated from the previous night’s thunderstorms; everything smelled of baking wet earth, sunscreen, and greasy event food. I don’t remember any intrusive insects or even visible birds except for a couple of extremely distant hawks, dull specks in the otherwise empty sky.

Another respectable scattering of spectators occupied the baking field, most sprawled directly in front of the small Camp Stage, true fans eagerly upright despite the merciless heat. So just as expected, one of those perfectly innocent afternoons you buy with the ticket, monotonous while deeply nourishing, readily absorbed through the whole skin like childhood summers.

 didn’t know about the witches yet, but they were out in force. Yeah, it’s a silly description but I don’t know how else to capture the awful effect of those damn women. So they were witches who’d been summoned by a highly demanding assembly of affluent suburbanites, people accustomed to commanding natural forces. And while arguably these were all benevolent females who only meant well, with witches you never know how it’s going to turn out.

Every August for more than a decade I’ve headed out to Schwenksville for this dependable throwback party. And not precisely to enjoy the music, because although it commands my absolute respect I find it too intense for everyday entertainment. It’s a kind of church music, an unashamed church of humanity: pure sound, plaintive and honest, twanging and rambunctious, dulcimer gentle. Fitting, then, for this late-summer pagan rite in honor of righteousness, and I immerse myself in it to perform a spiritual cleansing of sorts, processing across the fields from one rustic venue to another, affirming a succession of bluegrass pickers and ballad wailers and theatrical tellers of old tales. And it’s a mildly uncomfortable ritual in another sense, but that’s because of the mostly undamaged people, the one’s who wholeheartedly enjoy everything and applaud too often.

As with anything religious, there are incredibly subversive undercurrents longing to manifest, easy to exploit by those portending witches. Two of them performed that day, one with such tragic skill and clarity it unintentionally aroused huge amounts of self-loathing and subsequently resentment, at least in me. The second inspired a joy vigorous enough to move the plot. And the third exerted an indirect but equally damning influence courtesy of her own celebrity, her mere idea inciting a shaming nostalgia. In fact it was dangerously stupid to speak her name aloud. All three arrived wearing absolute certainty.

This current festival setting, the Old Pool Farm, is perfectly suited to the occasion. There are wide fields to accommodate the generous crowds, a nicely crisp and sparkly creek, and the requisite gates and groves, all at a situation remote enough to evoke a wholly separate culture despite easy proximity to the city. Although that’s not difficult, because even today you only have to poke your nose outside the nearer suburbs to spot a rusty silo on some decrepit farm with another of those filthy black-and-white, diarrhea-spewing dairy cows leaning against a sagging wire fence, its pelvis practically poking through its muddy hide. Peeling paint and hay bales directly across the road from another mushrooming pretentious development, a slum of dull, identical cheapjack townhouses. So despite the fervent country claptrap the festival is essentially a metropolitan scene, drawing a sophisticated crowd, and therefore in one sense condescending, an insult.

Murmurs of anticipation brought me up on my elbows to discover Hannah Lynch already onstage, a typically modest entrance. I sat up and paid attention, catching sight of her inside an amiable circle of probable musicians, a glimpse of her face and one thin shoulder between competent-looking backs in cowboy or cotton work shirts, all of them endlessly conversing there in surprisingly gentle voices.

Until finally they broke apart and here she came gliding towards the front of the tiny platform, moving within a reputation so illustrious it made her physical presence unlikely and you had to struggle for it. A tiny bird of a woman, an elderly, fragile sparrow with fine gray hair and hazel eyes and translucent skin, nodding to us and smiling nicely with small unremarkable teeth while seating herself on a wooden folding chair. She was dressed like good people, like a decent Christian farmwife in a faded print skirt and cotton blouse of mixed pastels, pink and beige and blue. Only with dangling silver jewelry to be noticed, since after all she was a major star.

With this one unshakable article of faith: that her famously quavering soprano was entirely unrelated to her own ordinary self, more of an imposition or a trust, an undeserved gift from God that in no way merited personal praise. So she has stated. And accordingly she exuded genuine empathy with all of us waiting out there for her, straining forward to better capture the spirit and stamina investing each word. A curve of laughter lit her face, and there was grief there too, but nothing to diminish that serene spirit.

Beside me Crystal, blatantly artificial trendoid in that audience of cosmopolitan pseudo-naturals, for once had the good sense to keep her mouth shut. Crystal, please note, was present only because she suspected this event mattered to me and meant to chain herself to it in my memory. She was an unashamed criminal, and really sweet, and I admired her.

Lynch sat there looking at us and hugging her guitar, once giving it a surreptitious pat like a favorite pet before launching into one of those unexpectedly piercing old songs, a rather shocking rush of raw bitterness and despair – nothing silvered there – railing rather than mourning yet cleanly tragic because without any confusion of entitlement or excuse, in fact totally untainted by melodrama, an expression of rightful fury to upend your sensibilities and make you cringe inside your pampered, complacent soul.

And onward, commanding that summer hour with a repertoire of futile longing, black misery, true love, unalloyed injustice, and journeying away as only the truly dispossessed can journey. How inadequate we were by comparison, what undeserved good fortune to be sitting there vicariously sharing the infinite human endurance of those former generations, thus beatified now. Sharing a deep pride in our good taste and our faultless fundamental values.

And that’s how this festival always goes for me: a fusion of rapture and fleeting realization, of purging and rebirth I suppose. We avid celebrants being served by true vicars, unassuming conduits of grace because essentially craftspeople evincing the unquestioning self-respect of their kind, therefore automatically accepting us as equals and worthy of their respect, refusing to cater. That’s how Lynch and her ilk deliver their deadly blows, how they incite our reckless, self-destructive impulses.

Because the problem is, nothing is enough and never can be, not in any case. And in addition to that, this particular event carries an impossible burden of triumphant civil rights baggage. A weight of expectation, purest gold and just as heavy, presses down on those fields like an approaching storm, flattening the trees, placing an unbearable strain on our moral muscles, making even the most authentic and engaged participant stagger for reasons most often never identified.

You see there’s no battle here anymore, a situation as frustrating as it is pathetic. I mean, what’s so pitiable as striving mightily to wage a war already won, or achieve a moral victory already popularly embraced? Like you’re on some lone and dangerous crusade instead of enjoying a mere reenactment, an amusement park ride. As if any real social hazard or physical extremity ever threatened most of these initiates. As if they could face the real front line today. Come to that, what in the world ever sprang from this placid piece of Pennsylvania countryside anyway, or even its nearby metropolis, so far from the bloody front lines of decades past? What justifies this hallowed ambience? Everyone knows the real struggle was over in another state, in the deep South or New York or California, all that televised passion and pain. Yet here’s a similar legacy, an undeserved renown.

Seriously, you have to consider this heritage of the sixties, that era of righteousness and innocence and victory, you have to ponder the connection to the contemporary lives and events I’m describing here. Resurrect that intoxicating scent of possibility. Realize how strong it is, what it can do. Watch any old news film and it’s literally like viewing creatures from another planet, those young people are so alien, their gestures and expressions so certain and strident, an entire new world in their angry, accusatory eyes. What can any of that mean in this age of spent possibility?

So today the Folk Fest is largely a masturbatory farce of self-congratulation, courtesy of this pushy, upscale audience basking in its accustomed sunshine, displaying that forceful amiability that means money, smiling too brightly over bare freckled shoulders. Uniformly pale people displaying their ease on this bucolic faux battlefield, all aggressively self-aware. And meanwhile a barely perceptible, slightly demented energy flutters along at grass level, an intrepid narcissism bent on having a significant experience and more than a little desperate to measure up to itself.

I’m as progressive as anyone, I secretly gloat over my superiority, so for me all this underlying energy eventually manifests as low-grade irritation, and the fact that bad temper is implicitly verboten at this event only makes it that much worse. And then here comes Lynch to further emphasize everyone’s obvious unworthiness and what can you do but silently seethe with frustrated moral ambition. This is the one Folk Fest constant I always dismiss until it’s too late and I’m climbing aboard one of the yellow school buses that shuttle people in from the parking fields, listening to all the boisterous but balanced chatter. Probably a deliberate amnesia, because as I say, for me it’s a religious event.

So by later that Saturday afternoon I was largely disgusted with myself and as you can imagine, wonderful company. Once again stretched out on my back but this time my whole body obstinately exposed to the brutal heat, and while I had a bucket hat shielding my face I’d raised my knees to better facilitate the burn penetrating my jeans. I reached my left hand out past the edge of Crystal’s spongy blue blanket, feeling for the heart of the earth deep underneath the dispirited vegetation, Edna Millay style.

There we greeted the second witch, and for an interlude of spontaneous revelry the whole phony carnival dissolved, wiping away our precious fictions to reveal the one face behind the infinitely varied masks. Rather commonplace moments to underline the supertext, a brief but blessed release from introspective angst, an intoxicated dance that anyway began wholeheartedly but inevitably dwindled into posturing before ultimately discarding us back into isolated, shattered pieces of humanity scattered over a sunlit field.

We were in front of the main stage, the Martin Guitar Stage, a venue that backs into some tame leftover woods. The smaller Tank Stage was to my right, with behind it a private area for performers, and to my left the equally small Craft Stage. Further left was all the familiar festival retail, folkie variety, striped tents selling hippie throwback goods like handcrafted ceramics, carved wooden bowls, tie-dye skirts, hand-strung glass beads, and bad art. In between the main and Craft Stages a tiny dirt path paralleled a shallow creek of sparkling mica and soft mud; both disappeared into the dim coolness of the Dulcimer Grove, a rather precious habitat of jugglers and magicians and others of that Renaissance Faire ilk, a determinedly magical place more or less reserved to scantily clad or frankly naked children, their cheeks painted with stars and moons in indigo and crimson. Either they’re truly mesmerized by these archaic amusements or they’re convinced they should be by the adults and the daycare atmosphere, because they all sit there expending fierce concentration on colored sand and sparkly fairy dust, their little pink tongues extended in effort. I mean, all the world is fake, even the kids. Around them circles a protective hillside of slender trees roped together by string hammocks in bright primary colors, a haphazard effect of beggars’ rags pegged out to dry.

If you follow that same path straight on you come out on field with more dry grass, more distant trees, and another vacant horizon. On the right is the Camp Stage, site of Lynch’s morning concert; on the left an unremarkable gate gives onto the campers’ settlement, one of those ephemeral constructions of funky tent-and-RV fantasies, castles and pyramids and suburban estates complete with lawn furniture and barbeques and anything else you need for rustic comfort. The affable professional performers come here after the regular shows to sit and drink and play their music well into the summer nights, just for these special stalwarts. Notice how everyone’s personal effects are carefully positioned to define private family spaces but without absolutely excluding the requisite hobnobbing community, because that would repudiate the spirit of the thing.

And anywhere you care to look there are all these exceptionally pleasant people, a seasonal confluence of the enlightened: middle-aged, nattily-bearded men with thick hairy ankles showing beneath those long gauzy skirts; visibly well-educated younger couples falling all over each other in reassuring mutual recognition; friendly teens aglow with their own laudable social spirit or familiarity with meaningful music or both; and grimy toddlers in T-shirts and shimmering plastic haloes with their baby curls shining and their fingers to their mouths and their tiny feet covered with dirt. Skimpy tank tops and glittery backpacks, idiosyncratic witches cones and sombreros and straw cowboy hats covered in button collections, pale muscled calves and freckled backs red with sun and damp with perspiration.

All these regulation types navigate cordially across the fields, buying and eating and exercising their approval, until later in the afternoon when the heat is truly intolerable and it’s a matter of claiming a place for the folding chairs and coolers and settling in for the afternoon concert. When for a couple of hours all these enervated devotees create for themselves an enormous patchwork quilt of blankets and tarps, an American prayer rug rolled out beneath the glare.

I among them, hiding under my hat, squinting up from under the brim, intending not so much to watch the performances as to absorb them from a neutral distance. Meanwhile I was relishing the sense of Crystal beside me, resentful at having to endure all this legitimate music.

When here came a second celebrated woman into this extraordinary and disorganized day, an ineffably cosmopolitan presence in a white silk shirt that billowed out over notably slim hips and tight black jeans tucked into cowboy boots. The costume only emphasized the unmistakable sophistication in the sharp angle of her jaw and the sleek black bob swinging at her shoulder. That taut body edged itself onto the stage and into our attention, anticipation suffusing her narrow face, her whole person radiating the intrinsically cool self-content of a magician about to pull off the big illusion and astonish us all.

Lifting fiddle and bow, lowering them to call a comment offstage, bringing them back up to her pointed chin experimentally while a guitarist, drummer, and another violinist fooled with getting into position, and around me an expectant rustle shook off the afternoon lethargy, and once again I sat up and wiped the sweat and sunscreen from my forehead.

She leaned forward a fraction to acknowledge us.

“Hello all you very special people.” Now decisively raising her instrument. “Three jigs.”

Well, you know that kind of tritely manipulative music, but then her exceptional skill, that energy climbing into a frenzy, the first notes reaching us with the adolescent enthusiasm of uncurling spring leaves. Music so familiar and yet astonishingly fresh, something behind the insistence of it transcending its own rather sentimental imagining. Passages as fleet but powerful as pure energy, and you’d actually have to defend against the physical impact but why would you bother to fight off such delirious joy?

They have a reserved seating section in front of the main stage, a modest pen containing rows of wooden folding chairs surrounded by a fence of deliberately rickety palings. It was largely unpopulated for the afternoon performance. A dirt lane about ten feet wide separated this area from the field of common folk. Crystal and I were up front, right near the dusty edge of this path, and close to us, in the lane itself and with one tiny hand firmly grasping the enclosure fence, stood a fairy-slim blonde girl of five or six. Just as I fully noticed her she launched into the familiar steps of an Irish jig, lifting first one exquisite bare foot and then the other into tentative arcs, curving each arm alternately above her head. From her shoulders a pastel summer dress floated out in the shape of a loose triangle, and her movements caused her hair to caress her perfect little back.

With the increasing confidence of the music her delicate feet, fragile pale-pink petals, rose and crossed each other in an assured sequence that bespoke formal lessons, and meanwhile her eyes never lifted from her toes and her pallid face was tense in concentration. Only once did she manage a quick glance up to a middle-aged scholarly type, probably her father, who nodded mild encouragement but displayed, I thought, some slight annoyance.

Now complex annotations around the tune turned tight elegant spirals; it was all self-interest now, you understand, nothing to do with us but instead its own internal voyage. In the path the child reworked her steps, her frown expressing frustration with her own limited expertise.

When suddenly appeared two barefoot, competent-looking women in their early thirties skipping down the lane, then widely twirling, then skipping again, their hands clasped and arms outstretched to form a traveling arrow. Both flaunting gauzy pastel skirts and silvery tank tops that exposed perspiring firm flesh, both draped with multiple glittering strands of Mardi Gras beads flashing purple and green and mauve. They acknowledged the blond child with an upward swing of their joined hands high over her head, a bridal arch speeding by on either side. It made her giggle but move closer to the fence.

The fiddler was bending practically in half over her bow and the second fiddler not being any slouch either, their hands and arms pushing towards the absolute limits of muscular possibility, straining against themselves to maintain their momentum.

Then four ethereally lithe teenage girls forming two pairs, and they were in regulation T-shirts and shorts except all bore silvery translucent wings that flapped at their slim shoulders; they went whirling around and around each other and simultaneously forward, delightful gyroscopes with their feet stomping hard on the infectious strain yet for all that maintaining the ludicrously disinterested expressions of runway models.

Promptly followed by a young couple charging along in an outright polka, aggressive but a tiny bit shamefaced, too: he was slim and wore a neatly-trimmed dark beard; she was sturdy and short with a pixie haircut and a refined air, like an educator. The little dancer flattened herself against the fence but continued a rhythmic bopping, presenting no less enchanting an image. And she was proved wise, because here came the same young couple back again, being the kind of people who need to underline the obvious.

Passing midway an approaching male pair, seeming now a little more obliged than inspired, their muscular calves flashing below their khaki kilts: one was broad in the shoulders and chest with a thin ass and spindly legs; his partner was entirely slim, remarkably tall, and balding. Presenting the impression although little of the force of a strong wind, they nevertheless managed to turn the little dancer halfway round, her moist mouth open in wonder. She paused there, staring after them.

Now the dancing was everywhere. I stood up to confirm a modest sea of erratically bobbing heads at every side but especially to the right, past the Tank Stage: enlightened middlebrows and emotionally stranded hippies and likeable healthy teens and self-disciplined mandolin players and confident cultural elitists and miscellaneous commonsensical types engaged in a nearly impromptu production number, for one bright second emerged from behind the mask of individualism, openly expressing one joyously creative soul.

Well, we were dancing out in the field as well, all of us to some extent, the more exhibitionist characters gyrating on their bright blue tarps and lifting their hands in the air, and some efficient types illegally occupying the marked-off aisles, prancing with impudent liberty up and back. Patrons excessively enthusiastic or self-consciously hesitant but almost everyone involving themselves in the music. I was dancing too, not to make a spectacle of myself or anything but feeling myself a part of the gala. And about then I realized it was already ending because that’s how these things always go.

Frenzied vibrations, faster than you could believe, and we listeners attended first with our ears and then with our bodies, stilling them now, desperate to capture every last second until inevitably all of it was swiftly and immaculately recalled into one compact point of silence and we found ourselves abandoned to our accustomed exile, returned to the pretense of our separate selves.

She played two more sets, we in her audience dutifully imitating our initial enthusiasm, grateful for the continuing reprieve. I’ve said it before: reality moves so fast anymore, we’ve all become experts at polite deceit.

Folk Fest protocol is to kick everyone out around six, sweep the grounds, then ticket everyone back in for the evening concert. You wait in a cattle shoot, at least if you’re fairly close to the gate, or anywhere nearby if you’re not, until finally the loudspeakers blare a Sousa march and you grab your chairs and blankets and coolers and run like hell to beat the other folkies to a premium patch of grass. Therefore it’s prudent to leave early enough to ensure you’re at the front of the return pack, and that afternoon, as usual, the knowledgeable attendees ignored the high, unrelenting sun, ignored even the name performer just introducing himself, and started unobtrusively filtering out.

I was making my own preliminary moves when I recognized Ruth off to the right, by herself and slightly beyond the audience proper. She was rather elaborately brushing grass off her shirt, and her hair was drifting into her face as usual; her entire aspect projected excruciating self-consciousness. It was the intricate performance of a woman uncoordinated at life yet used to being watched. She was in a lacy peasant blouse that didn’t suit her big-boned frame – it was lavender, too, which didn’t help – and loose black jeans over black cowboy boots. Her attention shifted to getting the blouse centered correctly; when finally she noticed me, that man standing perfectly still and staring at her, I waved a hand over my head in greeting. I have no idea why I didn’t just avoid her.

She assumed an automatic grin but then recognized me back and her smile turned beaming, and with it she transformed herself into a reasonably attractive woman, an odd but intriguing combination of big straight white teeth, thick dirty-blond hair, low forehead, pale freckles, and a long, arched nose that enlivened her profile with an aquiline swiftness.

Behind me Crystal was standing with our blanket gathered up in a big, baby blue synthetic wad; we watched Ruth maneuver through the half-seated, half-moving spectators, visibly enduring our inspection. When she got closer you noticed the deep frown lines between her brows and realized how much older she was than you’d assumed from the juvenile posturing.

A forthright greeting to Crystal and a frankly offered hand, all fraught with the deep disdain of the intelligent, accomplished woman encountering the undeserved self-esteem of the merely lovely. To which assault Crystal responded with her typical flaccid grip and a near shrug, an implied refusal to expend any more of her precious personal energy on uninteresting shit. Ruth turned away from us, towards the stage, where an athletic-looking but otherwise unassuming man of about forty in a tired cowboy hat was inaudibly explaining a song. That duty done, she faced us again.

“This is all new to me. It’s wonderful! That dancing.” She opened her arms wide to encompass the stage, the field, and the discreetly dispersing audience. “Very Caucasian.”

Well. The cowboy strummed an acoustic guitar, meanwhile calmly examining his surroundings for concealed gunslingers. And naturally I remembered our lunch but that was months ago, so surely whatever she was babbling about then was probably old news and anyway too vague to reference or be embarrassed over now.

She was brushing at her jeans for no discernable reason. “Did I tell you about Leticia Rowan?”

Just typical. What about Leticia Rowan? How aggravating when I hadn’t seen Ruth for months! I knew Rowan was the night’s closing act. Meanwhile my brain was automatically playing familiar media images backed by the old uplifting refrains: that bold soprano keening from the Capitol steps, debunking the myth of American justice; the slim, avid girl of the famous photograph where she’s perched on a stool in a Greenwich Village coffee house, radiant with the novel excitement of causing real change. Set on living a validated life, perfectly exemplifying those decisive, glorious years, that age of energy and faith. Today still socially engaged, as you would expect, and while no longer that wondrous sylph just as lovely in the clean bone beneath the motherly padding. But most often appearing during those public broadcasting fund-raisers, programs aimed at prosperous boomers eager to relive a spurious past.

“I’m introducing her tonight.”

“The hell you are.” It was such a stupid lie, not even remotely sustainable. Especially outrageous when you considered Ruth’s musical identity: her morning drive-time show featured one of those feel-good formats: generic soft rock interspersed with headlines, traffic, celebrity gossip, and a few carefully screened listener calls. Media hypocrisy providing a safe harbor for the harried immature listener, carefully friendly and slick and sympathetic and definitely never politically or socially oriented when that might mean causing offense. Also never mind that Gene Shay, comfortably stout folkie radio program host from a very different station, legendary teller of truly horrendous jokes, always introduced the performers here, world without end, amen. Come on.

“Right, you know everything. I forgot. And you’re never wrong.” I suppose that was an ostensibly genial poke at my renowned erudition. I happen to think if someone asks you a question they should have the courtesy to listen to the answer.

“I’m speaking after Gene.” Gene! And she was looking repulsively self-satisfied. “I asked Leticia Rowan if I could say a few words and she agreed, for some strange reason.” Now slipping into her professional mode, that rather arch blend of certainty and faux intimacy delivered with an indelible Lina Lamont slur: cay-unt um-an-jin. Fingering the silver holy medals at her throat, a crucifix and two others piled up together on a single delicate silver chain: Jude of the impossible and the Virgin Mary.

And she laughed at my horrified expression and launched into what I assume was a fairly mendacious account of a reception for Women in the Media at the lovely old Bellevue, where at that sort of event there’s a rigid social hierarchy: the unfed proletariat leaning forward from chairs up on the mezzanine to watch on monitors, and the elite dining at tables down on the ballroom floor. Ruth skipped over who was speaking on what and cut straight to dessert for the privileged few, she naturally among them being her gracious public self, wandering around being affable and networking with vibrant women in suits too bright for an office and intelligent men with refined, open faces, clearly expensive slacks and jackets, and beautifully cut hair.

And there was Leticia Rowan already in town and seated comfortably in a corner behind a tortured centerpiece of bamboo and tiny orange orchids, casually chatting with a couple of intimates. So Ruth went up and offered another of those frank handshakes. “I’m truly awed.” Basically insinuating herself into the party, making it clear who was honoring whom.

Then went prattling on in her practiced glib fashion about youthful idealism and her own fictitious activist past, seasoning it with ingenuous regret over her current disengaged state to smooth along the manipulation. Although this with a woman surely inured to dubious approaches? There’s something unconvincing about this I haven’t the time to investigate but the result must hinge on Ruth’s accumulating nervous tension, the months if not years behind the coming explosion. That kind of stress sets you performing impulsive actions, forcing unaccountable outcomes.

In retrospect I think Ruth once again mistook a fortuitous encounter for the hand of destiny and just barged ahead. Either that, or else she fell victim to that common desire to cleave to what one professes to despise.

I was dumbfounded. “Why?”

“Oh, envy I guess. I wanted to be part of it.” Charmingly stated, her forehead furrowed in recollection. And what was I supposed to say to any of it?

Behind us the cowboy mooed through a mild dirge, disrupting nothing; around us the field was nearly empty, abandoned to the insistent sun. And Ruth was standing before me explaining too much and nothing at all, once again too intense, setting off all sorts of warning bells.

Crystal lifted a pastel spaghetti strap from a pink shoulder and raised her impudent big gray eyes, looking at Ruth with that innocent expression women use to express contempt. Her private opinion of Ruth: “Nobody has to be seen looking like that.”

Crystal was another communications major and model manqué hoping to become, of all things, a personality. That ubiquitous blond hair, the pleasant features of no special distinction just slightly out of proportion: another responsibly raised, college-educated harpy bereft of individuality because nature abhors individuality. Instead she emanates sex, it’s in her bones and baby face, her short upper lip and outrageous ambition. Don’t expect her to evolve, because she’ll never be other than she is right now. Fortunately she’s immune to jealous criticism, not being that kind of stupid nor shy to succeed. She held some kind of entry-level management job at the Center City Holiday Inn Express, an occupation that never seemed to seriously impact her real life. Crystal is her birth name.

“Thom here?” I asked.

Ruth’s husband, a frequent guest on her program as either political insider or amiable comic foil, was a local celebrity in his own right, a Philadelphia familiar, a compendium of agreeable ugliness, frightening intelligence, crooked teeth in a moist marshmallow grin, Ivy League polish, loud patterned shirts, genuine charm, horrible posture, an unrepentant gift for outrageous flattery, and an impudent, cutting wit. Outsiders considered him the epitome of Main Line class.

“He’s in Harrisburg.” Acknowledging my disquiet, looking amused for my benefit, but her eyes were shading into wariness. She pushed that uncontrollable hair from her damp forehead. “I’m running around loose today.”

And she gave me a minor, tight smile, raised a few fingers in a little goodbye salute, and strode purposefully towards the gate.

“Hunh!” Crystal said for both of us.

Festival security is handled by costumed volunteers: polite, energetic young people impersonating funky pirates or medieval wizards or just nameless creatures of purely idiosyncratic design. This clean-cut constabulary was now shepherding we stragglers to the main gate with cordial efficiency, their intricate hats, adorned with oversized badges of authority, visibly bobbing over the heads of the crowd. The cowboy singer had vanished.

I stood there in the empty afternoon glare, again hunting around for a rational line of thought but failing to find one. Finally, today, I have an insight: my being there that afternoon helped determine the event.

I navigated us out of the grounds and smuggled us under the rope to a decent spot not too far back in the queue; none of the polite people already there objected. Crystal was perking up now she could catch the scent of approaching evening, her posture opening up to opportunity, her eyes brightly observant. I ducked back under the ropes to get a couple of Cokes from a vending machine and together we waited out the forced restorative lull, letting the afternoon settle down around us, watching the families in lawn chairs eating their dinners, relaxing in public. At length the loudspeakers sounded and we all pushed forward through the gates and launched into the usual painfully hilarious sprint. I got us fairly far up front on the center aisle and bent over gratefully, hands to knees, while from the corner of my blurred vision I saw Crystal plop herself down with her mildly victimized face.

Faint applause, which had to be for the traditional bagpipe welcome; a moment later I could hear the piper myself, and then came Gene Shay with his terrible jokes. By twilight we were enduring a young bluegrass quartet of some nascent merit but an unfortunate air of artsy superiority. Then an enjoyable mambo interlude evoking romantic images out of fifties movies, and by full darkness the Jumbotron screens displayed a close-up of a frail, dedicated Canadian singer-songwriter, another of those admirable females. Insidious damp was seeping through my jeans and sweatshirt, chilling my ass. Disembodied light-sticks moved at random, children giggled, and the kindly scent of marijuana wafted by in sporadic gusts.

Crystal and I outlasted the Canadian over strawberry smoothies doctored with vodka while around us the night coalesced into a blackness that seemed physical and bulky, something you could push aside like drapes. Then there was that huge yellowed moon illuminating the speeding brown clouds, making the entire universe feel unusually sentient.

Gene Shay was back with even more of those horrendous jokes, to be replaced by a middle-aged dignitary in a blazer over jeans, quietly defiant.

“We are the light of truth, the truth the capitalists and the banks and the conglomerates want forgotten. But we’re still here, still burning bright through the darkness.” He actually said that, sure of the personal politics of these many music lovers, all these people who could afford to share his opinion. Declaiming thus in an understated but confident bass, Main Line meets simple country boy to produce unfaltering self-respect. Positions shuffled onstage and there was Gene Shay back, leaning sideways into the standing mike to signal brevity.

“And now let’s talk about one particular brilliant candle shining through the darkness, brighter than almost any other, one of the iconic voices of an era of civil renaissance: the inimitable Leticia Rowan.” Grinning back offstage as if to a good friend, as maybe she was. “And just to underline how special this really is, we have an additional guest, because Philly’s very own Ruth Askew is going to provide us a more personal introduction.”

There was a kind of group shrug but nothing worrisome.

A further positional dance, the screens displaying indistinct blobs and random emptiness, and finally there was Ruth behind the microphone. We observed her taking us in: waving lights skittering over dull shapes, anticipatory shifting and murmurs, a few people in motion pausing on their way somewhere to see if it was worth the wait. Magnified, she looked brutally plain, with noticeable lines around her mouth and those disproportionately large, disturbingly vulnerable blue eyes.

And she just stood there, absolutely rigid, until we all paid complete attention. I think she was overwhelmed by pure contempt, that it confounded her ability to speak, so instead she spat at us

When everyone instinctively recoiled, as you can imagine, but now she was past her initial paralysis. More, she was beyond pretense, out in the wild ether, and you could almost see the crazy. We instinctively coalesced into a tight defensive silence.

“That’s for all you virtue thieves.” She’d struck this theatrical posture of aggressive confidence, all very square and speaking directly down to us.

“But unfortunately for you, we’ve reached the end of righteousness. Not in this electronic age. No more fleeing consequences and calling yourself good. Time itself is nothing but our continual separating away from the primordial dead nothingness of absolute truth and rightness.”

It’s almost over, but I hope you see how excruciating it was. I’m sorry to have to assault your sensibilities with this shit but we were all squirming in unforgivable embarrassment and you should understand.

And to be fair, is your religion less silly? Isn’t every great religion or even philosophy as impossibly childish? And here’s something else: she was handing us a diagram of her own psyche and circumstances, issuing a perfectly clear warning that went ignored simply because it was way too obvious. Because this is, after all, a story about stupidity where everything is fucking clear if you just pay attention.

Ruth put a hand to the mike, still keeping that confident posture.

“This is the next great evolutionary leap. We will claim the future responsibly, and we will become more like God.”

Just at that moment, the words flown, the energy abating, I could sense her dawning comprehension of the enormity of her situation. She looked to her side – for something, someone? And then she sent a little nod out to us, to the compact, alert darkness.

“Then to the elements be free, and fare thou well!”

That’s Prospero, retiring his magic and releasing the slave-spirit Ariel at the end of The Tempest.

But Ruth stayed out there, holding that same strong, taut pose until a calm Gene Shay was suddenly present and gently thanking her from the stage, sending us a tolerant nod while herding her aside. And there at last was the great Leticia Rowan herself, that vast, benign goddess in a golden caftan, smiling an unrestrained country smile, exuding inexhaustible strength and kindness. Clearly decent people, both of them.

Ruth was barely visible now, but I saw her turn to take a final glance back at us, her face for one moment revealed to the giant screens, then as abruptly absent. Terrified of course, because terror is her resting state, and still insolent, and definitely smug. 

Contact Information

Website: asmikemiller.com

Twitter: @asmikemiller

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16051629.Mike_Miller

Purchase Links

Amazon*

 

*If you make a purchase from this site, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to yourself. Offering links that give me a commission from purchases helps to support my family and keep this blog running.

Book Review: Unbound by Steph Jagger

Sometimes, you work really, really hard for a really long time, and then you hit a wall. That wall may be one created due to burnout; it may be one that is created from trying to keep up with others; it may be one created when you realize you no longer care to live up to the expectations everyone else puts on you. 

That’s what happened to Steph Jagger, and she writes about it in Unbound. I can relate to her a lot. For a long time, in a male-dominated field (philosophy), I worked really hard to keep up with the guys around me. I was doing a great job! But, I wasn’t happy. Something was missing. Long hours, jumping through academic hoops, and the pressure to be “the best” and compete with others added up. Moreover, I was a single mom doing it all, and I felt like I was missing out on a TON when it came to my kid. So, I sought something else out. And now, here I am, 9 years after leaving grad school living a totally different life than I thought I’d be living right now (and that’s a good thing). 

Steph decided to head out and leave her job and her security and stability. Then, she decided to go and ski a bunch – four million vertical feet, in fact. 

“Who are you?” he asked, “and what kind of woman do you want to become?”

No one had ever asked me questions like that. I’d never thought about the who, what, and why questions. There hadn’t been room fort hose, not when I was so busy answering the where, when, and hows with my growing collection of shiny blue ribbons. (p. 151)

That’s the thing about chasing “success.” It becomes hard to know who you are when the spotlight isn’t on you. It becomes hard to know who you are or who you want to be. Instead, you get stuck in the mire of chasing one resume bullet point after another – without thinking much about why you’re doing it. And that’s why books like this are so important. It’s really easy to lose yourself when you think you’re on the path you’re “supposed to be on.” What’s harder is finding yourself on that same path and figuring out who it is you’re actually supposed to be. 

I think a lot of women go through this. I might be wrong. Especially those of us who grew up with the “girls can do anything” motto. It sometimes starts to feel like, “women should do everything” as opposed to an invitation to determine what course our lives should take. Add in entheusiastic mentors who push us and challenge us to fit into the success mold and lean in – and it can be easy to lose our way while on a paved road. So easy. 

I know I related a lot to Steph throughout the book. I think a lot of other women will as well. If you enjoyed Wild or Eat, Pray, Love, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re like me, and haven’t read them yet, you’ll enjoy this book. I think the most important takeaway from Unbound is that sometimes you have to get out there and get away from what’s comfortable. Sometimes, you really do have to start over again. And you know what? That’s okay.

About Unbound

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (January 24, 2017)

A young woman follows winter across five continents on a physical and spiritual journey that tests her body and soul, in this transformative memoir, full of heart and courage, that speaks to the adventurousness in all of us.

Steph Jagger had always been a force of nature. Dissatisfied with the passive, limited roles she saw for women growing up, she emulated the men in her life—chasing success, climbing the corporate ladder, ticking the boxes, playing by the rules of a masculine ideal. She was accomplished. She was living “The Dream.” But it wasn’t her dream.

Then the universe caught her attention with a sign: Raise Restraining Device. Steph had seen this ski lift sign on countless occasions in the past, but the familiar words suddenly became a personal call to shake off the life she had built in a search for something different, something more.

Steph soon decided to walk away from the success and security she had worked long and hard to obtain. She quit her job, took a second mortgage on her house, sold everything except her ski equipment and her laptop, and bought a bundle of plane tickets. For the next year, she followed winter across North and South America, Asia, Europe, and New Zealand—and up and down the mountains of nine countries—on a mission to ski four million vertical feet in a year.

What hiking was for Cheryl Strayed, skiing became for Steph: a crucible in which to crack open her life and get to the very center of herself. But she would have to break herself down—first physically, then emotionally—before she could start to rebuild. And it was through this journey that she came to understand how to be a woman, how to love, and how to live authentically.

Electrifying, heartfelt, and full of humor, Unbound is Steph’s story—an odyssey of courage and self-discovery that, like Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, will inspire readers to remove their own restraining devices and pursue the life they are meant to lead.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Steph Jagger

Steph Jagger splits her time between Southern California and British Columbia where she dreams big dreams, writes her heart out, and runs an executive & life coaching practice. She holds a CEC (certified Executive Coach) degree from Royal Roads University and she believes courageous living doesn’t happen with one toe dangling in, but that we jump in, fully submerge, and sit in the juice. Think pickle, not cucumber.

You can find her at www.stephjagger.com or on Instagram @stephjagger.

Book Blast: New Year – New Novels (AND GIVEAWAY!)

WELCOME TO THE NEW YEAR – NEW NOVELS BLAST! 
 
Click on any of the below book covers to be taken to the page that has more information on the novel as well as the Buy Links!
 
 
Novels Available for Pre-Order!
 
RABT Book Tours - As You Lay Sleeping  RABT Book Tours - Crashing Into Me  RABT Book Tours - No Second Chances  RABT Book Tours - Sheik's Rule
 
 
 
Novels Currently Available!
 
 
RABT Book Tours - Jigsaw Hearts   RABT Book Tours - And Then Mine Enemy  RABT Book Tours - Grey Cloudy Lies
RABT Book Tours - The Grizzly's Tale  RABT Book Tours - Making Bad Choices  RABT Book Tours - Unbreakable Heart  RABT Book Tours - The Knight
 
 
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Book Review: Triangle of Hope by Michael Meyer

Michael Meyer’s Triangle of Hope follows three friends who have been battered by life. They wind up going on an adventure to a small Irish Town. The book is gripping, and there isn’t a dull moment throughout. Without giving away spoilers, I can say that this is a book that will stir your emotions and stick with you. The stories of the three characters are woven together, and just when you think there can’t be yet something else to knock the characters back – ell, you’ll have to wait and see what happens. I don’t say this lightly – this book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys literary fiction. 

Contemporary Fiction

Date Published: December 1, 2014

 Publisher: Pacific Books

Life grinds you down, but there’s always hope–and sometimes it can come in the strangest of ways….

After being battered by life’s cruelness, three unlikely friends find themselves drawn to a small Irish town seeking something–anything. Finding solace in one another, their quest throws them together and they make a courageous stand.

Clint Westerly was a success until a choice he makes blows his world all apart. Tanya Wilshire is broke and hell-bent on committing to her mother’s final deathbed request. 84-year-old Seamus Harrington needs to right an ancient wrong before time runs out.

Together, this unlikely trio of unexpected allies forms a Triangle of Hope against all odds, their disparate stories uniting for a thrilling conclusion that will leave the reader breathless.

If you love feel-good reads with happy endings, then TRIANGLE OF HOPE is for you. It is “a book that will stay with you forever.” – Wanda Hartzenberg, Wanda’s Amazing Amazon Reviewers

It is a “fantastic read that will pull at your heart.” – Lauren Alumbaugh, Goodreads librarian

SEMIFINALIST FOR THE 2015 KINDLE BOOK AWARD IN LITERARY FICTION

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:

1 – Los Angeles, California

His impending death hung in the air like thick smog, smothering everything in its path, obscuring a parade of ups and downs, the unevenness of thrills and chills that defined his life’s existence. It was eerie and scary, but also rather comforting, much like being in a warm bed on a cold night, like shivering while being filled with excitement at what was going to happen next. The news could very easily have been broadcast to those of his past and present, but he had made certain that all the speakers had been turned to mute. He had made the firm decision to meet his destiny without any chance of intervention by anyone. He was all alone in this, his final act.

The hotel room was a bit dark with all the lights switched off, but outside the window the sky was as bright blue as Cinnamon’s eyes had been. At least that’s the way it looked to Clint Westerly. For some reason his mind had suddenly flashed on Cinnamon of all things. Cinnamon had been the perfect cat. Paul Newman eyes, he had called them, which sparkled in the sunlight and glistened in the dark. Such beautiful eyes. Such a wonderful cat. Such a pity that eighteen years was all the time he had had to frolic through the world. Cinnamon had been the perfect cat, the perfect companion. The little cat had been much more than a friend. He had actually been like a son to both him and Sheila. Anybody who knew them would surely concur. That’s just the way things were in their wonderful world.

Their world. What a crock! What world? Everything gone now, vanished, disintegrated into thin air, the tiniest particles vaporized into non-existence. Not a remnant remaining except for the tortured thoughts brought about by that one memory that refused to disappear no matter how painfully the ever increasing toll that it took on his physical body and on his ever working brain, overwhelming him in the process, the remembrance bringing him to his knees, shutting out all other thoughts as well as the rest of the world. Darkness and clouds made up the present, and there would be no future. How could there be? Not with the ever painful memory tearing at his innards, wreaking havoc with the person he had once been. Obliterating the world he had once known. Snuffing out all that he had loved, all that had made up the world in which he had once so happily lived.

 He took a big swig from the large snifter of XO Remy Martin he held in his right hand, the cognac warming his throat at it snaked its way into his stomach, his left hand resting on the windowsill. There was so much beauty in the world. Just look at the trees gently blowing in the breeze. Look at how the leaves seem to glisten as they sway in the gentle breeze. See how the clouds out on the horizon take on the never-ending shapes of the imagination, slowly changing shapes and colors in an endless kaleidoscope of wondrous features, a galloping antelope, a smiling child, a mighty elm. All one had to do is look, and wonderful scenes could be seen and imagined, constantly evolving from one glorious image to the next.

Remember the giggles of little tots’ faces, the tail wagging of puppies, the sound of rain on the roof, the softness of a newly made bed, the warmth of a fire on a winter night, the smell of coffee in the morning, the moonlit sky, a beautiful sunset, the sound of waves crashing against the shore, the first gulp of water on a thirsty day, the move-it-forward power of a smile from a total stranger.

Yes, life could be so good…so why did it have to end this way?

Where to Purchase Triangle of Hope

 

Love-Based Money & Mindset Book Blitz

 
 
 
Personal Development/ Self-Help
Date Published:  December 2016
Make The Money You Desire Without Selling Your Soul
Publisher: Love-Based Publishing
 
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Are you ready to step into a life of peaceful prosperity?
 
For many of us, money is a source of angst. Maybe there’s never enough and it’s a constant source of stress. Maybe no matter how hard you work, you’re never able to get ahead. Or maybe you’re in so much debt, all you feel is shame and despair.
 
 
If any of this sounds familiar, then you’re in for a treat. Love-Based Money and Mindset is designed to help you heal your relationship with money so you not only feel peaceful about it, but so you’re also able to attract all the abundance you want.
 
 
While this book is designed to help everyone who struggles with money issues, it’s particularly helpful for those who have (or want to have) a business. The bottom line: The more you can cultivate a love-based mindset, the more easily and effortlessly you’ll attract money into your life.
 
Other Books in the Love Based Business Series
 
 

 

Business, Writing
Publisher: Love-Based Publishing
Published: July 2014
 
 
Do you hate the way sales and marketing copy makes you feel? Sales-y? Inauthentic? Hype-y? Just plain icky? You’re not alone … and there’s a reason you feel that way. It’s because traditional sales and marketing copy (also known as direct response copy) sells by tapping into fear.
 
 
But, you don’t have to use fear – you can sell and market your business using love instead. And when you do that, you stop manipulating and twisting arms to get buyers, and instead start attracting, inspiring and inviting your ideal clients into your business.
 
 
Ahhh — doesn’t that sound wonderful?
 
 
In this book, copywriting and marketing expert Michele PW (Pariza Wacek) teaches you the philosophy and the foundational principles behind selling with love versus fear – the same principles she’s used to help her clients build their businesses over the years. Plus, she includes dozens of exercises so you too can easily implement love-based copy in your own business.
 
 
Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or business owner or just starting out, you’ll discover valuable tips and strategies around selling and marketing with love. And not only will you feel great about it, so will your ideal clients.
 
 
Business, Writing
Publisher: Love-Based Publishing
Published: September 2015
 
 
If you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, expert, speaker, author, coach or consultant who would love to create marketing materials that attract, inspire and invite your ideal prospects to become ideal clients without sounding hype-y or sales-y, then this book may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
 
 
In Michele’s first book, “Love-Based Copywriting Method,” she walks you through the philosophy of love-based copywriting and explains why traditional copy and marketing feels so icky. In this book, “Love-Based Copywriting System” she rolls up her sleeves and walks you though her exact system for writing copy that converts without feeling sleazy.
 
 
You’ll discover exercises, examples, templates and more — in fact, it’s designed to be a “copywriting course in a book.” You’ll get detailed, step-by-step teachings of everything from headlines to features and benefits to presenting your offer and more, so if you follow along and complete the exercises, by the end of the book, you’ve got your copy created.
 
 
Also as a bonus, it included a free workbook!
 
 
Business, Marketing
Publisher: Love-Based Publishing
Published: April 2016
 
 
As an entrepreneur, small business owner, coach, consultant, speaker, author, and/or expert, you know marketing is the lifeblood of growing a successful business. Yet, for so many of us, marketing is also one of our biggest struggles.
 
 
Well, that’s all about to change. In Love-Based Online Marketing, Michele PW walks you through exactly how to create an Online Marketing Plan tailored specifically to you and your goals so you can grow a business you love AND that loves you back!
 
 
And the best part, thanks to the Assessment included in this book, your Online Marketing Plan will be based around your Marketing Love Factor. This means you’ll not only love your marketing (really! Even if you’ve always hated it before!), but you’ll also be empowered to market your business in the exact, perfect way for you.
 
 
So if attracting, inspiring and inviting your ideal prospects to become ideal clients and customers without being hype-y, sales-y or slime-y feels like a breath of fresh air, this book may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
 
 
 
 
 
 
About the Author
 
 
 

 

When Michele was 3 years old, she taught herself to read because she wanted to write stories so badly.
As you can imagine, writing has been a driving passion throughout her life. She became a professional copywriter (which is writing promotional materials for businesses), which led to her founding a copywriting and marketing company that serves clients all over the world.
Along with being a copywriter, she also writes novels (in fact, she just published her first two psychological thriller/suspense/mystery novels called “The Stolen Twin” and “Mirror Image'”) plus, she is also the author of the “Love-Based Copy” books, which are a part of the “Love-Based Business” series and cover both business and personal development.
She holds a double major in English and Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently she lives in the mountains of Prescott, Arizona with her husband Paul and southern squirrel hunter Cassie.

 
 
Contact Links
 
 
 
Purchase Links
 
 
 
 
 
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Book Review: Killing It! by Sheryl O’ Loughlin

killing-it-coverAs an entrepreneur, I’m more than familiar with the demands on life being an entrepreneur makes and the level of commitment running your own business takes. When I was offered the opportunity to review Sheryl O’Loughlin’s Killing It! An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart, I jumped at it. I’m always looking for more ways I can balance being an entrepreneur with being a wife and mom of three going on four. It’s not always easy.

Killing It! has chapters on love, partnerships, romance, children, friendships, and the need for a supportive tribe of others. Especially in a situation like mine, where I’m doing what I do from home, it’s important to reach out and find other people who are trying to do the same thing. A tribe is one of the most valuable assets an entrepreneur can have.  O’Loughlin writes:

“It may not be faith based, but entrepreneurs are a tribe, too. That’s why whenever an entrepreneur asks for my advice, I take the time to give it to him. I know him; I know what he’s facing…We need to support each other so we become stronger over time and create increasingly better businesses for the world.” (62)

Entrepreneurs, like bloggers, do make up a special tribe. We face special challenges – like – how do you bootstrap this new business venture enough to ensure that a venture capitalist, angel investor, or the Small Business Association lenders will see that you have a viable idea? Or how do you ensure that this idea you’re passionate about doesn’t take over every corner of your dining roo-er-life? It’s good to surround oneself with others who think and do similar things. In fact, the right people at the right time can serve as outstanding mentors. 

Later chapters in the book deal with risk, money, health, humility, and the ability to let go when necessary. Starting up business ventures is not for the feint of heart. You have to be willing to learn more than you thought you needed to know, work longer hours than you thought you could work, and put up with a substantial amount of risk before your business starts actually making money. You need to put in the time. This can sometimes lead entrepreneur-type-folks to embrace unhealthy eating habits and claim they never have time to exercise. 

Because of the level of stress involved with startups, it’s important to find ways to reduce stress, avoid burnout, and stay healthy.  O’Loughlin writes:

“I’m far from the only entrepreneur with a hard-charging personality–it’s how most of us are wired. Entrepreneurs have to be driven in order to want to take on such a job, and in order to succeed at it. But as the saying goes: ‘Your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.’ Because what do you thin happens when you take someone who is not prone to self-care, who gets laser focused, who is used to facing ten people’s worth of work and getting it done and then some, and put that person in a scenario where the workload is truly unmanageable, where the stakes are high, where the workload is truly unmanageable, where there is little about the outcome he or she can control, and where no one is giving him or her an A++, let alone a ‘job well done’? What do you thin happens when this person faces failure, possibly for the first time, as he or she almost inevitably will? It seems lie a recipe for a crash, and it is.

As someone who is recovering from crashing headfirst into the burnout wall, I can honestly say that this describes the experience of many entrepreneurs. Particularly those trying to “do it all.” 

If you run your own show or you’re thinking of starting a business, Sheryl O’Loughlin’s book will give you tips from the inside on how to succeed in this venture. The book is well-written, and I appreciate the honesty and candor with which she looks at this lifestyle. Reading the book is like sitting down at a coffee shop with someone who has been there.

About Killing It

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: HarperBusiness (December 6, 2016)

The former CEO of Clif Bar, Co-founder of Plum, and serial entrepreneur offers insights about launching and growing a business while maintaining a fulfilled life in this practical guide filled with hard-won advice culled from the author’s own sometimes dark, raw experiences. With a foreword by Steve Blank.

Aspiring entrepreneurs are told that to launch a business, you must go all in, devoting every resource and moment to making it work. But following this advice comes at an enormous personal cost: divorce, addiction, even suicide. It means sacrificing the intangibles that make life worth living.

Sheryl O’Loughlin knows there is a better way. In Killing It, she shares the wisdom she’s gained from her successful experiences launching a company from the ground up (Plum), running two fast-growing companies (Clif Bar and REBBL), and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs (Stanford University). She tells it like it is: If you don’t invest in your wellbeing, your business will not succeed, nor will you.

Sheryl knows firsthand the difficulty of balancing the needs of her growing family with her physical and mental health, while managing other work and life challenges. In this warm, honest, and wise handbook, she gives you the essentials for killing it in business—without killing the rest of your life.

Filled with real-life examples and anecdotes, Killing It addresses common questions including:

  • How do you prepare your significant other for your business venture?
  • How do you time launching and growing your business with the ebb and flow of family life?
  • How do you find joy in the day-to-day?
  • How do you maintain meaningful, supportive friendships?
  • How do you walk away and start again?

The ultimate life and business course, Killing It gives entrepreneurs the tools they need to start their enterprise and thrive—both in the office and at home.

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sheryl-oloughlin-apAbout Sheryl O’Loughlin

Sheryl O’Loughlin earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is the CEO of REBBL super-herb beverages, and she previously served as the CEO of Clif Bar, where she led the concept development and introduction of Luna Bars, and was the cofounder and CEO of Plum Organics. She is the former executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She lives in Santa Rosa, California, with her husband, Patrick, and her two sons.

Book Review: Earning It by Joann S. Lublin

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I was excited to review Earning It by Joann S. Lublin. As a small business owner, I figured there would be some tips in this book to help me succeed, and there are. But, I also found the chapter on sexual harassment in this book to be problematic. The advice? The equivalent of “Don’t make yourself easily harassed and suck it up, Buttercup.” 

Perhaps it’s the fact that so many women I know who reported sexual harassment had this prematurely destroy their careers, while they experienced backlash from not only those reported but other women in their workplace. Perhaps it’s the fact that I chose myself to not make a big deal about the fact that I was called a “dumb broad” during a presentation by a male superior, and when I took it to his superior I was told “You could have a case, or you could have a career.” Either way, telling women, “Don’t put yourself in positions where you get harassed” and “Suck it up if you want to get ahead,” are akin to telling a woman not to get herself raped. 

I don’t think that was the intent of Lublin. I believe she thinks that the advice dispensed in the chapter is sound advice – because it’s the advice that many of us have been given in our careers. I just also don’t think that the advice really helps when there is a situation where, say, a coworker is regularly watching pornography on his computer or where “locker room” banter is prevalent and makes the women in the office uncomfortable. It’s no more helpful than telling girls not to wear short skirts – because as we all know, women who wear pants get raped too. 

I think as long as one is reading this book with a keen sense of “This is the traditional advice that has been given to women,” there are real gems of advice to gain from it. But telling a woman to avoid her harasser and stay out of his way is a valid method of dealing with sexual harassment long-term just continues to perpetuate the problem. 

earning-it-coverAbout Earning It

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: HarperBusiness (October 18, 2016)

More than fifty trailblazing executive women who broke the corporate glass ceiling offer inspiring and surprising insights and lessons in this essential, in-the-trenches career guide from Joann S. Lublin, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and management news editor for The Wall Street Journal.

Among the first female reporters at The Wall Street Journal, Joann S. Lublin faced a number of uphill battles in her career. She became deputy bureau chief of the Journal’s important London bureau, its first run by women. Now, she and dozens of other women who successfully navigated the corporate battlefield share their valuable leadership lessons.

Lublin combines her fascinating story with insightful tales from more than fifty women who reached the highest rungs of the corporate ladder—most of whom became chief executives of public companies —in industries as diverse as retailing, manufacturing, finance, high technology, publishing, advertising, automobiles, and pharmaceuticals. Leaders like Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, as well as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, and Brenda Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee, were the first women to run their huge employers. Earning It reveals obstacles such women faced as they fought to make their mark, choices they made, and battles they won—and lost.

Lublin chronicles the major milestones and dilemmas of the work world unique to women, providing candid advice and practical inspiration for women of all ages and at every stage  of their careers. The extraordinary women we meet in the pages of Earning It and the hard-won lessons they share provide a compelling career compass that will help all women reach their highest potential without losing a meaningful personal life.

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joann-lublin-apAbout Joann S. Lublin

Joann S. Lublin is management news editor for The Wall Street Journal and works with reporters in the U.S. and abroad. She frequently appears at conferences to discuss leadership, executive pay and corporate governance. She created The Journal’s first career advice column in 1993. She shared its Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for stories about corporate scandals. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with honors from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in communications from Stanford University. She lives in Ridgewood, N.J.

Find out more about Joann at her website and follow her on Twitter.

Book Review: Girl Unbroken

Sometimes, it helps to understand what someone else may have been through; sometimes, it helps to read about someone who has survived in the most dire of circumstances.  In Girl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney, we follow the lives of five siblings with five different fathers and an alcoholic mother through their abusive upbringing. There are parts of this book that made me angry, and there are parts of this book that really warmed my heart. The hardest part is when the siblings are separated and Rosie’s fate becomes much darker and scarier. The book celebrates strength – emotional and physical, and it celebrates continuing to fight to get through the violence and abuse to come out the other side stronger, and unbroken.

This is another book I recommend without reservation. You won’t be able to put it down. 

girl-unbroken-cover

About Girl Unbroken

• Paperback: 416 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 18, 2016)

In the highly anticipated sequel to her New York Times bestseller Etched in Sand, Regina Calcaterra pairs with her youngest sister Rosie to tell Rosie’s harrowing, yet ultimately triumphant, story of childhood abuse and survival.

They were five kids with five different fathers and an alcoholic mother who left them to fend for themselves for weeks at a time. Yet through it all they had each other. Rosie, the youngest, is fawned over and shielded by her older sister, Regina. Their mother, Cookie, blows in and out of their lives “like a hurricane, blind and uncaring to everything in her path.”

But when Regina discloses the truth about her abusive mother to her social worker, she is separated from her younger siblings Norman and Rosie. And as Rosie discovers after Cookie kidnaps her from foster care, the one thing worse than being abandoned by her mother is living in Cookie’s presence. Beaten physically, abused emotionally, and forced to labor at the farm where Cookie settles in Idaho, Rosie refuses to give in. Like her sister Regina, Rosie has an unfathomable strength in the face of unimaginable hardship—enough to propel her out of Idaho and out of a nightmare.

Filled with maturity and grace, Rosie’s memoir continues the compelling story begun in Etched in Sand—a shocking yet profoundly moving testament to sisterhood and indomitable courage.

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Regina CalcaterraAbout Regina Calcaterra

Regina Calcaterra, Esq. is the bestselling author of Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island, which has been integrated into academic curriculums nationwide. She is a partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and is a passionate advocate for children in foster care.

Find out more about Regina at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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