Category Archives: Memoir

Lovely and hilarious memoir of living in France

  I was contacted recently by author Keith Van Sickle about his memoir of his experiences living in Provence, France.   I was immediately interested in reading his book.  You may not know, but I have minor in French and was on my way to being a certified French teacher through the University of Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, despite my ability to read and write French, my conversational French left little to be desired.  As a poor college student, I could not afford to travel abroad to become immersed in the language as all my fellow students were doing.  I abandoned my dream of becoming a French teacher (though not my love for all things French….Chocolat de pan, especially.)  I changed my major(s) to English Literature and Library Sciences, and here I am.

However, this review is not about me.  It is about Keith Van Sickle and his delightful wife, Val.  (I call her delightful even though I have not met her because Keith describes her as someone I would want to be friends with).  Keith and Val have had a love for travel and the French culture, so they decide to quit their jobs in Silicon Valley to move to France along with their dog, Lucca.   This is Keith’s account of their time there.  Each “chapter” is more of a anecdotal snapshot of  their experiences.  They are fun to read and made my mouth water with the description of the bread, butter, croissants, roast chicken, fresh vegetables….you get the idea.   I loved reading about the cultural and political differences they encountered as they learned the language as they went along.  It is a quick, entertaining read.  If you are looking to read something that will make you feel cozy and happy…read this.  Warning:  you may be tempted to quit you job and follow in their footsteps.  I know I am.


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Attention 80’s Fan!

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-3-03-14-pm  As someone who grew up in the 80’s watching John Hughes’ movies, I was quick to read this book.  It is written by Jason  Diamond, and it is HIS memoir and not John Hughes’ memoir.  It is an interesting take on a memoir and reads rather quickly.   Jason Diamond was born a few years after me and in Chicago where John Hughes filmed many of his movies.

Jason grew up in a violent and broken home, and he found comfort in movies like Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club.  He could relate to the characters, like Duckie and Andie, who came from broken homes and were misfits.   Jason’s story is a tale of a dark childhood told through humor and 80’s culture.  He has always written to get through his loneliness and abandonment.  He found solace in libraries and the movies of John Hughes…as well as through alcohol and drugs.  His path to becoming a successful writer and finding love was not easy and seemed to almost fizzle out.  His one goal for years was to write a biography on John Hughes…his idol.  He spends time working and researching…spending money he did not have to complete this goal that would never be, but in the end what he discovered and achieved is much richer than what he could have imagined.

I recommend this book to those who are familiar with John Hughes, to those who have had a traumatic childhood, to those who purpose has seemed meaningless, and to those who know that there is always hope.  My one complaint is that the book ended suddenly, and I know that was done intentionally.  I just wanted to know more about Jason Diamond and his parents….

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A captivating memoir

img_9512   This is Aspen Matis’ memoir of the months she spent finding her strength, and who she truly is while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail….2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.

Debby Parker, Aspen’s name before she began her trek , grew up with loving and caring parents….both Harvard Law Graduates.  She grew up in Massachusetts in a happy town with two older brothers….life seemed good.  Yet her mother was quite overprotective of her and did not allow her much space or freedom to make her own choices and take care of herself.  This is what lead Debby to enrolling in college in Colorado….to live on her own and so far away.  On her second night at college, she is raped.  The rape is not acknowledged by the college and Debby began to feel the rape was her fault.  She lost her confidence and feared for who she truly was.  With her parents blessing and money, she quits school and heads onto the PCT for a life-changing experience.

I could not stop reading her story….her strength, her fears, her sadness, her self-doubt, and eventually her rebirth.   Such a great read!  It makes me want to explore the PCT….maybe not all 2, 650 miles of it….but maybe a week or so on the trail.

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Beautiful tribute to family

image   My Grandfather’s Wisdom: Lessons From a Short Life Lived Well by George F. Knight is a collection of advice, motivational quotes, and ancestral stories….a journey to the past.  George F. Knight never met his paternal grandfather who passed away 15 years before he was born, and he and his sibling knew little of him.  It was not until his own father’s death, that he discovered a scarlet journal of his grandfather’s.  In this journal, his grandfather scribed words of wisdom from his own experiences in such detail….what a tremendous find!

This little book means a lot to me…not because it is my family that this man writes about.  Instead it is the legacy of his own family that he writes about.  If you know me, you know I am always up for sifting through old letters and photographs.  I love going to antique stores and reading about the past both nonfiction and historical fiction.  I love going to visit historical sites and getting lost in the stories of those who have come before.  This is a big reason why I love books….and bookstore and libraries.   To wander around a place with so much wisdom and history and smell the pages and the book glue…to touch the worn spines and wonder about the people who have been here before…that is an amazing feeling.

I hold George F. Knight in high regards because he took the words written by a man he never met…words that were written in the late 1800s, and he preserved them and honored them in a beautiful book for the future to read.  There is meaning in the words his grandfather wrote, and family or not…this book is a treasure.

Here are a few of my favorites quotes from the collection:

“There is no greater nuisance than the fluent man who excels in ignorance.”

“”To know enough to realize that you do not know it all will many times save you from making a fool of yourself.”

“There is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.”

This is a book I recommend for all to read….pick it up when you need some advice…some inspiration… some laughter.  You’ll be better off for it.



Filed under Memoir, nonfiction, Uncategorized

13 Years in America

  I had the pleasure of reading a little glimpse into author Melanie Steele’s experience living in America as a Canadian.  Her story is called 13 Years in America: One Women’s pursuit of the American Dream.  Melanie chronicles her life from for 13 years starting in 1998.  She has spent some time after college graduation traveling around Canada experiencing life…you know that time that young people spend trying to find themselves.  Melanie’s truly values experiences and people over money and status and this is consistent theme throughout her story.    She quickly meets and marries her American husband and then moves to Minnesota to begin their life together. It was fascinating to read  of their struggles not only the financial ones, but with their own value system opposed to those around them.  That is a tough part of life….the time you realize that your dream life may not be financially possible, so you have to adjust….do you change your dream or change your mindset?   Melanie has never wanted to conform or fit into a mold.  She wants to work where she feels that she is doing something that is appreciated…the money does not matter.    My favorite part of the book is when they move to Grand Marais, and she takes a job writing grants for a radio station.  I felt this is where Melanie found happiness.    However, the book ends quite abruptly and does not have the ending I had expected.  I am not sure if she ever discovered her American Dream (for it is different for all Americans…that is what makes America so beautiful to me.)

A side note….Melanie works for a year as a college professor teaching freshman English.  She seems dishearten by this experience for the students are not eager to be there nor seem to be moved by her passion for writing, so she decides to pursue other avenues.  I wished that she would have stayed in this profession longer…she seemed gifted as a teacher.  As a teacher myself, and being married to an English teacher….I understand the frustration.  There seems to be more students who appear uninterested, and yet years later, we have both received emails or letters from students telling us just how much they learned from us and appreciated our classes.  Teaching like parenting is a very under appreciated profession…and it may be years until your children see just how much you have helped them.  In all honesty, we may never truly know how many lives we have touched….we have to believe we have made a difference.  Teaching is a beautiful thing…

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Mothers and daughters….a timeless subject

   Here is a heartfelt memoir of a mother and daughter who decide to embark on a six month-long journey together around the world.   This is the second memoir by Clair and Mia Fontaine called have mother, will travel.   Their first memoir is entitled Come Back, and it chronicles 15-year-old Mia’s drug addiction and abuse from her biological father.  I have not read that one, but I will be reading it in the near future….believe me.

have mother, will travel is told 10 years after their first memoir, and that pair is now 51 and 25 years old.  The excitement from the first book has begun to die down and Mia is living in New York trying to start a life for herself while her mother is living in Florida renovating a hopeless house and wondering what the heck she is doing.  Claire has an idea to go on the adventure around the world as part of a group (kind of like the Amazing Race)….and she decides she wants Mia to join her.  Mia agrees quickly and that begins the adventure of a grown up daughter and her mother as they strengthen their relationship and learn more about one another.  The memoir is told in alternating voices….Mia’s accounts are written in italics while Claire’s is not.  The two are talented writers with their own unique voice.  They give detailed stories of the countries they visit from China and riding on elephants to Egypt on the back of camels.  They spend time is France really just relaxing and examining who they are and where they have been.  Claire not only looks at her relationship with her daughter, but begins to make sense of her relationship with her own mother.  I found myself tearing up and finding commonality with the pair….both as a mother and a daughter.  There is something in here for every mother and daughter to take away.

Here is the book trailer!

If you want a chance to win this book, go to my giveaway page!  One lucky winner will receive a FREE copy.


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Turning ordinary into extraordinary

   Here is a fresh, cleverly written memoir by Tali Nay.  I loved the format of this book entitled Schooled…most likely to the fact that my life has always been the center of education similar to  Tali.  Tali divides her memoir into short, witty stories that she remembers from kindergarten all the way through getting her MBA in grad school.  She talks about the awkward events (learning about sex) to the struggles she encountered (all those popular kids, and why she never seems to reach the height of popularity that she desires), and some sad events (death).  She delights us with an elementary student’s perspective and the reader sees Tali grow…we see her expand and develop into a confident young woman who realizes popularity is self-imaged….hey who gets to decide what is popular anyway??  We get to see how she is not only shaped by her peers, but also by all the teachers that played a part in her education and growth.  As a teacher, I loved seeing how sometimes the simplest lesson transforms a student.  Teachers do not always get to see their impact…we are not always able to know if we made a difference or if we just sound like every adult on the Charlie Brown cartoons to our students.  Tali has a talent with words and expressing herself….she has clearly, cleverly told an original tale for all to enjoy.

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