Book Reviews

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Latest Book Review: I Need To Tell You, by Cathryn Vogeley

Cathryn Vogeley’s memoir, I Need To Tell You, was my first experience learning of the horrific events in which unwed mothers, in the 60’s, suffered from circumstances of giving birth and giving up their babies. These women were not given a choice. In fact, giving life was brought about with guilt and shame. It happened in secret, as if an anomaly. These young women were often referred to as one “in trouble.” As Cathy’s mother would say, “Put it past you and move on.” But it wasn’t so easy. Closed adoption, as mentioned in the book, “was cruel and unjust, leaving deep scars that for many have never healed.”

Cathryn was one of those women who loved deeply, and who was misled by a boyfriend who had bigger dreams—college, a career, his future. And what mattered to her family is not so different from stories of today. What would others think? Would our reputation as a wholesome family be ruined? Would members of the Catholic church abandon us as a family because of this sin? The judge in Cathy’s head tormented her. Yet in her heart she knew that “a woman has a right. A right to decide for herself what is best.” 

And a mother never forgets. Whether or not a child is lost, aborted, or given up for adoption, it is the mother who will spend her life wondering, waiting, worrying. In Cathy’s case, she had a magnificent moment with her daughter. One she would never forget. It wasn’t the months of being alone with her growing belly, in a strange environment, or the 48 hours of labor, that she would remember. It was the beautiful face looking up at her as she rode in a taxi to a place where her baby would be swept up out of her arms, never again to be seen. She gave her a name. And she could only hope that a substitute family would give her the best chance at life. 

Many of us may ask, “How did I get here? How did this happen?” I don’t want to give away too much of the story. If you want to experience this woman’s resilience, fortitude, and relentless love for a child, you should read it for yourself. You’ll love the imagery throughout, like this scene, “A wooden bridge spanned the wetland. Below, a great blue heron slept, majestic in the quiet, oblivious to the complications of human lives.”

Cathy’s words take me back in time—to the 60’s—with her description of style and fashion. Events of that decade, like the shooting of JFK, that rocked the world, yet had no effect on the author or me—at the time. And, in her epilogue, it was me talking, “I’ve come to understand my life as a tapestry of choices and, more importantly, circumstances that made me who I am, a completed masterpiece, a woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin.” Thank you, Cathy, for your honesty, your vulnerability in sharing this story, and your inspiration for others. 

Book Review: Reckless Grace, by Carolyn DiPasquale

Reckless Grace: A Mother’s Crash Course in Mental Illness, by Carolyn DiPasquale, is a gift. It is a gift in so many ways…

From mother to daughter

These are the heart-wrenching words of a mother lost in grief. The way Carolyn DiPasquale describes her daughter Rachel–her clothes, her hair, her skin, her blue eyes, her personality, and details of their conversations–I began to feel as if I knew Rachel. I could feel this mother’s pain the day she collected Rachel’s belongings from one of many boyfriends who had used her, betrayed and abandoned her at times when she needed them most. She writes, “I picked up her Aldo flip-flops with the abalone disks. I was with her at the Warwick Mall when she bought them. Inside, I saw the imprint of her toes.” An image I’m sure will never fade.

I can relate with this author, who as a single mom, struggled with the daily challenges of busy work schedules and working hard to pay the bills, while attempting to provide a safe environment and the greatest opportunities for our children. It’s not easy, and we worry that what we do is not enough. As a mother of two grown children, I’ve asked myself, “Did I do enough for my kids?” “Is there anything I missed?” And when we realize we could have done more, we live with some regret, even when in many ways we’ve succeeded.

Because Rachel was intelligent, witty, and caring, her mother had confidence in her. In the beginning, she attributed her daughter’s behaviors to typical adolescent growing pains—impulsivity, mood swings, issues with body image. She trusted Rachel’s strength and perseverance to overcome struggles with eating disorders, addiction, and diabetes, not always knowing the extent of her suffering. 

It seems multiple medical teams, rehab programs (inpatient and outpatient) failed Rachel. Yet her mother never gave up on her. It didn’t matter the cost, time, or sacrifices she had to make. She would do anything to save her daughter. 

But the greatest gift of all was to put this book out into the world. To publish her daughter’s words and to tell her story so it might help others. Rachel writes, “I want to share the beauty of what I’ve learned, help people face their secrets. I want to leave an imprint on somebody.” I have no doubt this book will accomplish that.

From Rachel to the world:

Rachel knew herself well. She worked tirelessly to help herself live with multiple disorders when she felt nobody else understood. As many will, she says she neglected the voice of her inner child, her true self. Through her journals, she reveals that “Reckless Grace” is her false self. “Vivid. Reckless. Grace.” She writes, “Vivid is my gifts. Reckless is me screwing up. Grace is God giving me another chance.” “This is why I had it tattooed on me. Not in plain view where I am constantly reminded of it. No. On my back because I want it behind me.” What an inspiration!

Rachel’s love for God never seemed to wane. She trusted Him. Prayed for his mercy and grace. It was one relationship that never wavered—solid, steady and reliable. She writes journal entries, addressing God. One that brought tears to my eyes laid out her high aspirations for life, her dreams for the future, and her gratitude. 

Rachel’s prose and poetry are gorgeous and from the heart. The way she expresses her pain as well as her triumphs. These are two of the many lines from her journal I wanted to read over and over:

“The moon was huge and so low you could pull it off the sky and use it as a plate.”

“I like the ignorance of being in love. It covers reality like a pristine blanket of snow.”

From the author to anyone dealing with mental health issues, addictions, and chronic illness

The author reveals an untold, yet prevalent, condition: diabulimia. She brings to light something most clinicians don’t discuss, and how dangerous it is for adolescent girls with Type I diabetes. 

She courageously shows readers what it is like to live with eating disorders, addictions, and other afflictions. And her own story of living through the grief alongside her beloved daughter.  

The story is told with beautiful imagery through details that drop the reader into the scene. You are there with her from the day Rachel is born until the day of her death. She had named her daughter Rachel Grace after God’s grace because she didn’t feel she deserved this child. She introduces “grace” as “getting something outrageously wonderful when you least expect it.”

Purchase a copy of Reckless Grace on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. You can also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

Visit the author’s website to follow her updates. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

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Hey everyone! Check out my review of Mari L. McCarthy’s book: Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live. Just click on the link below:

https://www.createwritenow.com/journal-writing-blog/journaling-power-book-review-by-leslie-cox

Book Review: Save the Cat! Writes for TV by Jamie Nash

I’m excited to write this book review for Save the Cat! Writes for TV by Jamie Nash. As a writer, I’m familiar with other Save the Cat! books based on methods created by Blake Snyder and was curious to know if writing for TV was anything like writing a book. I learned that, as with writing a novel or memoir, a writer for TV must have a good handle on their target audience, theme, and character development. And many of the same elements apply, for example, the story’s hero needs to have a flaw or problem, a want/goal, and a need or life lesson to be learned. The story, whether from a book or TV show, uncovers the hero’s journey toward discovery and change. It is relatable, having a plot or theme the audience can identify with.

This book is fun reading even for non-writers. Steeped in humor and loaded with information about structure, plot, character and more, it offers witty and revealing insights into the world of TV-writing. Television fanatics will have a new appreciation for their favorite shows once they have a peek behind the scenes and all that goes into creating them. Before reading this book, I had no idea the extensive planning that goes into TV shows having different franchise types, formats, and platforms. 

Readers who are serious about writing for TV will find a step-by-step guide to creating ideas for a show, writing a captivating pilot or first episode, and bringing viewers fresh material that keeps them coming back for more. Nash provides a look into different worlds through examples of popular TV shows. For example, workplaces (The Office), family matters (This is Us), growing pains or life-phases (Parenthood), blasts from the past (Happy Days), and my personal favorite, lifestyles (Sex in the City). Make-Believe is another world with far-fetched stories created by writers with a wild imagination. 

This book is chock-full of tips and tricks for hooking the audience, building suspense, and keeping them engaged throughout an entire series. Each chapter includes exercises to challenge the reader and checkpoints to test our understanding of the concepts presented.

Pilot Beat Sheets and templates for the television pitch provide valuable guidance for those wanting to write for TV. And Nash keeps it fun with his conversational style and humor throughout. I highly recommend this book for any writer and/or lover of television. 

About the Author: Jamie Nash has written and sold almost every type of story under the sun. He teaches screenwriting at Johns Hopkins University and MICA and co-hosts the podcast Writers/Blockbusters. Jamie lives in Maryland with his wife, son, and a talking dog.

Check out this website for more information about Save the Cat!: https://savethecat.com/ and Purchase a copy of this book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Book Review: Zinger in The Woods by M. T. Becker

I’m excited to prepare this book review for m.t.becker’s Zinger in the Woods. As a grandmother of three, I adore children’s books. I’m also a substitute teacher for lower grades, and I’m a nature-lover, so Zinger in the Woods caught my attention. This book provides life lessons through the eyes of a little girl, Olive, and her beloved hound dog, Ginger. Both are captivated by nature and often take long walks in the park. 

Curious young readers, or listeners, will love learning about the animals encountered by Olive and Ginger, and they’ll have fun on this adventure that at times is exciting but also a little nerve-racking. I mean that in a good way. Without giving away the plot, I’ll just say Ginger gets into some trouble when she and Olive become separated and she’s trapped in a scary place. 

But along comes Zen to save the day! He is a kind and caring Australian shepherd who has been in and out of foster care his whole life, so he understands what it feels like to be alone in the woods and afraid. He also knows how to cure any ills using natural remedies like peppermint leaves to take away pain and lavender flowers for calming and soothing.

As the two dogs make their way back to Ginger’s home, they find nutritious berries and thirst-quenching water to keep them feeling their best. Olive is so excited to see them both, and she welcomes Zen into her family. 

This heartwarming story is a healthy lesson about trust, friendship, and self-care. The dogs have human-like qualities so they are relatable to young readers who will also learn about compassion, empathy, problem-solving, and teamwork. The illustrations by Peter Fasolino are convincing, taking us through the scenes as if we are part of the story. 

Thank you, Mark and Tiesha Becker, for this little book that I am pleased to share with my grandchildren, my students, and my blog-readers. 
About the Authors, M.T. Becker
Zinger In The Woods was retold by, husband and wife authors, Mark and Tiesha Becker, former elementary school teachers who decided to write a book after fostering three malnourished puppies. Zinger In the Woods reflects the lessons they learned from being parents, doggie parents, and teachers for over thirty years. You can discover more about M.T. Becker on their website: www.live-grow-sustain.com.

Book Review: Time to Re-Set by Karen Brown Tyson

Time to Reset arrived in my mailbox just before Easter. That in itself said “Take this opportunity, Leslie. Now is the time.” Easter, for me, is a day of renewal. A chance to start fresh. A time to reset. 

The release of Time to Reset couldn’t be more timely since it comes to us as we are beginning to see an end to a pandemic that has upended or changed the course of life for so many. 

Karen Brown Tyson, author, begins her book with a letter to our heavenly Father. This prayer has become a regular recitation for me as it puts into words a message I send to The Lord daily, although not in such eloquent prose. “Create in me a clean heart and renew in me the right spirit.”

Like Karen, I recently said goodbye to corporate life to devote my time to something bigger, more meaningful. In studying scripture for the first time in my life, I’m slowly finding my purpose. Yet unlike the author, I failed to become educated in areas that would have enriched my life in countless ways—English Literature and Theology. This book is a testament to Karen’s purpose to educate, inspire, and fulfill the call from our Father to be a disciple of His Word. 

The timing of my reading this book is relevant as I’m in the midst of writing a memoir that reveals how I allowed my life’s path to go in directions I would not have planned for myself. Unexpectedly, my personal plan unfolded just two years ago when I left a long, successful career to follow my dream to write. And after reading Time to Reset, I realize it wasn’t really my plan. It was God’s plan. The right plan for me. One that has allowed me to enjoy the gifts I had all along but didn’t recognize or appreciate. This revelation came to me in the first paragraph of Karen’s book introduction. People might make many plans, but what the Lord says is what will happen. (Proverbs 19:21) 

Time to Reset is written in a way, and at a level I could comprehend and relate to from start to finish. I’ll mention here that although this is a 21-Day Devotional, I finished the book in about three days and will likely read it again. Karen’s GLOW Philosophy is simple to remember and easy to incorporate into daily life: Grateful, Listening, Observation, Witness. 

What I find most helpful about the structure of the book is its readability. Each daily reflection begins with a prayer and a reference to scripture, followed by a story from the author’s personal experience. Each chapter offers take-aways and opportunities to reflect on God’s message and presence in our own lives. 

Here are five of my favorite quotes / takeaways from Time to Reset:

  1. God always invites us to get close to him. The invitation’s significance isn’t based on our accomplishments, race, wealth, job title, or gender.
  2. Sometimes the change we resist is precisely the change needed to improve our life. 
  3. See the beauty in the threads that connect my life experiences.
  4. God wants to help us find our way. But to do so, we must connect with him daily through prayer and his word.
  5. Following Christ doesn’t always mean “smooth sailing.” Storms will come. But Jesus will never leave us to go through the storm alone. 

I urge you to order your copy now and make time to reset your spiritual life. 

About the Author: Karen Brown Tyson is an award-winning author. Her first book, Time to Refresh: A 21-Day Devotional to Renew Your Mind After Being Laid Off, Fired or Sidelined, was named Finalist in the Religion: Christian Inspirational Category of the 2019 Best Book Awards.

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from West Virginia University and a Master of Arts in English from National University.  In addition, Karen has a Master of Arts degree in Christian Ministry and postgraduate certificates in Christian Leadership, Theological Studies and Biblical Studies from Liberty University Rawlings School of Divinity. She is a graduate of the Jerry Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild apprentice program. As a writer, she has developed several Christian ministry tools and training materials for her local church. Karen and her husband of 25 years, Kelvin, have one son and they live in North Carolina. Find Karen online:  www.karenbrowntyson.com

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