Category Archives: nonfiction

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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Filed under Memoir, nonfiction, Uncategorized

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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Filed under adult, Memoir, nonfiction, Uncategorized

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

Life in the new technology era

image  Matt Richtel has spun a fascinating  true narrative revolving around a horrific car accident in Utah.  The accident occurred in 2006, and it took the lives of two rocket scientists.  Reggie Shaw is a quiet, responsible young man who was driving to work on a rainy morning.  He seemed distracted according to the man who was behind Reggie for several miles.  Reggie’s car slowly drifts into the oncoming lane and brushes a car….a car with two rocket scientists on their way to work.  Both scientist would be killed instantly.  Reggie has no idea what happened.

The book bounces between the story of the accident and the events that unfold in the years following, and it looks into the study of the human mind and how technology affects the mind.  Just how much information can our minds handle?  How much can we focus when we are enveloped with technology everywhere….primarily our smartphones.

The book is fascinating…a bit technical in parts, but truly fascinating.  It begs the question:  “are we now slaves to our technology that once was a slave to us?”

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True story of America’s Youngest Serial Killer

Product DetailsThe Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo tells the horrifying true story of America’s youngest serial killer.  Back in the late 1800’s, Jesse Pomeroy terrorized the working-class neighborhoods of Boston.  At the young age of 12, Jesse begins to target young children into trusting him and then he tortures and abuse them in the most wicked ways.  In a few cases, the torture led to the death of these children.    This is not a tale for the faint of heart..  It is a bit gruesome and technical in regards to the details of the case.

What makes this such a fascinating read is the history and the psychology that surrounds the case.  This takes place during the Great Fire of Boston 1872 (which followed the Great Fire in Chicago) and how they city was left in ruins.  It was in these ruins that Jesse became a heartless predator among the young.  The history of the city and the fire was an interesting read for me.  I have read a bit on the Great Fire in Chicago 1871, but I have not read anything on the fire that destroyed a good portion of Boston during the same time.  The fire came to be known as Damrell’s Fire (after the fire chief).  He was an intriguing fellow who had feared for the city of Boston after the events in Chicago.  He researched what their city could do differently to prevent such a tragedy.  He was ignored.  And when the fire occurred in Boston and could not be stopped, Damrell was to blame.

Yet even more fascinating in this story is the psychology of the case.  The term psychopathic tendencies had not yet been introduced until the 1880’s….almost ten years after Jesse Pomeroy had committed his crimes.   Alienists (psychologists) and writers were quite intrigued by Jesse and his ability to disconnect himself from the atrocities that he committed.  Roseanne Montillo  researched the insane asylum and prison’s treatments of the inmates at this time.  The practice of solitary confinement was incredible to me, and Jesse Pomeroy spent 58 years in prison and almost all of those years were in solitary confinement.  Montillo delves into this topic in great detail.

The harrowing tale of murder was well researched and written.  I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in history and psychology.

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Filed under adult, historical, nonfiction, psychology

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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Filed under adult, Memoir, nonfiction

A must have for women runners

  As a runner and a mom, I found this book a welcome read.  Kristin Armstrong, Lance Armstrong’s ex-wife, is positive, inspiring and entertaining as she explains 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run.  Now, let me preface this by saying….I would recommend reading this book in pieces.  If you feel like you need some motivation…read a few sections and then once you have been inspired, motivated, entertained….then set it down for a while.  Kristin is a FAST runner….she runs with FAST women.  She is an extremely positive person even through all she has encountered in her life.  These are all wonderful things, but after reading her reasons….you may grow a little weary of her optimism.  I don’t mean to sound all smile-upside-down -kind of girl, I just believe her book is not meant to be read in one sitting.  If I did read it all I once, I may have found myself grabbing a Ritter’s dark chocolate bar instead of my running shoes.

So luckily for you, I have read it in pieces and was quite delighted.  I could relate to her passion as a mother and a runner. I understand the friendship that bonds female runners.  I run with a group of amazing women regularly, and I could not imagine my life without them or the conversations we have. I could relate to her love of real food. She loves her children more than anything and this comes through in her words.

She has the book broken into sections:  i.e. mothers, kids, identity, freedom,hills, race day, roadblocks, etc.  The stories are short and easy to breeze through.  I am going to keep this book handy for when I need a little extra motivation or maybe just something to make me smile.

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Filed under adult, nonfiction