I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman // Book Review

Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 19, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1416953663
Genre: Non-fiction / memoir
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

“HANNELORE, YOUR PAPA IS DEAD.”
In the spring of 1942 Hannelore received a letter from Mama at her school in Berlin, Germany–Papa had been arrested and taken to a concentration camp. Six weeks later he was sent home; ashes in an urn.
Soon another letter arrived. “The Gestapo has notified your brothers and me that we are to be deported to the East–whatever that means.” Hannelore knew: labor camps, starvation, beatings…How could Mama and her two younger brothers bear that? She made a decision: She would go home and be deported with her family. Despite the horrors she faced in eight labor and concentration camps, Hannelore met and fell in love with a Polish POW named Dick Hillman.

Oskar Schindler was their one hope to survive. Schindler had a plan to take eleven hundred Jews to the safety of his new factory in Czechoslovakia. Incredibly both she and Dick were added to his list. But survival was not that simple. Weeks later Hannelore found herself, alone, outside the gates of Auschwitz, pushed toward the smoking crematoria.
I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree is the remarkable true story of one young woman’s nightmarish coming-of-age. But it is also a story about the surprising possibilities for hope and love in one of history’s most brutal times.

MY REVIEW:

I watched Schindler’s List a few years ago, and found Oskar Schindler’s story fascinating! I already loved World War II stories, so I was excited when I found this book!

I was not disappointed at all! I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree was everything I was expecting and more! It was suspenseful, tragic, and sweet (or at least as sweet as a WWII story can be). Hannelore’s story was unique to read because she had so much hope during such a dark time. She, and the Polish soldier she fell in love with, both promised each other that they would never give up in the concentration camps. They promised to never give up hope nor stop trying to survive. This promise was what kept Hannelore alive during her many months in the camps.

This and the hope that she would be one of Schindler’s women–the name all the prisoners gave to the women who were written on Schindler’s list and chosen to go work at his factory. For months, Hannelore clung to this hope that she would be rescued by Oskar Schindler. For awhile she was able to keep up this hope. However, she started to lose hope as months went by and she was transported from camp to camp until arriving in Aushwitchz–the death camp. God did not forget about Hannelore, though, because she eventually became one of Schindler’s women–and her life was spared.

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree contains a superb story of a real-life Holocaust survivor. It also introduces the hero figure of Oskar Schindler. I recommend this book to an older audience (PG-13) as it has a mature subject in addition to some mature experiences Hannelore went through. Inside of the rating (PG-13), I would recommend this book to all adults/teens–as a reminder that the Holocaust was a real event, and something that should never be repeated.

Jay Got Married by James Robinson Jr. // Book Tour

Length: 142 pages
Publisher: Independently Published (September 6, 2019)
ASIN: B07WQQ28WW
Genre: Non-fiction / humor
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

Jay Got Married consists of 9 humorous and, at times, poignant essays chronicling the ironies of everyday life in word and picture. Take for example the lead essay, aptly titled, “Jay got Married,” where I find myself mired in a horrendous dream. 

In the fantasy, my aging father–dressed in his favorite Champion t-shirt with stains covering the front–marries my wife and I like he did 42 years ago but, this time around, the my 92-year-old ex-clergy dad forgets his lines causing me to coach him through the event with hints like: “ask for the rings, ask for the rings.” All the while, my best man sings Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe.” 

Finally married, my wife and I end the ceremony with a kiss. But as I turn to exit, my eyes catch a glimpse of the bridesmaid who is no longer my wife’s best friend but now Gal Gadot from Dell Comics and Wonder Woman Fame. She is dressed in full Wonder Women regalia and looks totally shocked by the whole affair. 

My mother turns to my father (now in the audience) with a quizzical look and says, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” She doesn’t get out much. 

As we exit the church, and the bubbles fill the air–no one uses rice anymore—my wife ignores the limo and takes off on a sleek motorcycle, leaving me in the lurch—hence the cover. 

Sure, it’s sounds crazy. But, in truth, isn’t the world of marriage crazy these days? In my case, what would one do when faced with the prospect of losing their beloved wife after 42 years? At age 67, would they remarry? Would they even want to remarry? These and other marital tidbits are discussed with humor and as much reverence as I could muster.  

P.S. The author pairs up with Wonder Woman again in a final bit of photo wizardry Why? How? How are tricky copyright infringement laws avoided? Read Jay Got Married and find out.

BOOK EXCERPT:

JAY GOT MARRIED

I had a frightful dream. I was standing at the altar with my wife and 400 guests in attendance. It seemed to be a repeat of our wedding in 1976. My now 95-year-old father performed the ceremony for my wife and me the first time around, and that’s how old he appeared to be in this vision. He kept forgetting the lines and was forever looking at me for support. At one point, I was whispering, “The rings, the rings.” I kept reaching for them, but they were disappearing before I could grab them.

Albie, my cousin and best man from my first wedding, was singing Sonny and Cher’s, I Got You Babe. Normally, he can’t sing for shit, but in this scenario, he had his hand on his chest and his head back, sounding like Luciano Pavarotti. What was this all about? 

My father, the minister, wearing his trademark Champion sweatshirt, with coffee stains on the chest portions, pronounced us man and wife. I turned to kiss my new bride and caught a glimpse of her bridesmaid. But instead of her best friend who was her attendant back in the day, it was Gal Godot from DC Comics and the movies. 

She was wearing her Wonder Woman garb, but she didn’t seem primed for a wedding. In fact, she appeared to be totally shocked by the whole affair. What kind of dream was this?

My wife and I ended the ceremony with a kiss. My mother turned to my father (who was then in attendance in the audience) with a quizzical look and said, “Dad, look at that bridesmaid. Isn’t that Superman?” 

She was close. She doesn’t get out much.

Oh, and then, though neither of us would be caught dead on a motorcycle, in this weird musing, we were apparently bikers. Instead of a limousine waiting for us at the curb, there sat a racy motorcycle with cans in tow. It looked like this one:

a person riding on the back of a motorcycle: The ground-up redesign for the S1000RR could catapult BMW to the pointy end of the literbike class.

I Googled it. It’s a BMW S1000RR—sleek, fast, and flashy.

But before I could get on the bike, she pulled off without me, as the cans tied to the wheels of the hot machine banged on the street, while her gown billowed in the breeze. She had left me standing in the street like a lost soul.

True, I shouldn’t have been drinking the caffeinated tea before bed, but more to the point, maybe, just maybe, this crazy vision was a warning, a forecast, an omen. Maybe it was God’s way of telling me that Wonder Woman could show up at your wedding without even paying her an appearance fee. Or even more to the point, perhaps it was to make me appreciate what I have. 

What if the unthinkable happened to my wife? What if she succumbed to a disease, or was killed in a terrible auto accident? Or worse, what if her life were cut short in a vicious pit bull attack? 

I jest. But you never know.

MY REVIEW:

I will start off with my negative review of the book…

Memoirs are usually my favorite genre; however, I am not usually a fan of memoirs in multiple short-story format. I prefer to read books in chronological Real-life events. When I saw this book, I hoped it would be different than the many other books, I have read in this format because, it had added humor to the genre. Unfortunately, I did not think it was.

I did not think the humor was very humorous–it was more absurd. I understand that the absurdness was the whole point for the humor, so if you are a fan of this type of genre, than I totally recommend this book. However, I am not a fan of absurdness, so I did not enjoy the humor that much. The only time I laughed in this book, was when I was laughing out of the pure ridiculousness of the stories–and it was not because I thought it was funny. I would have liked if the stories made me laugh because they were actually funny–not absolutely ridiculous. I think the author should have added genuine humor to the book–the type that makes yu laugh until your sides hurt.

All that being said, now on to my positive review…

I thought the author had a great writing style–and even though his stories were not very funny–he knew how to tell a good story. His stories were absurd but I have to give it to him, because he did a great job of telling them. He sure keeps the reader entertained and waiting to see what absurd thing is going to happen next. The stories are light reads but full of insightful nuggets about history and life that are nostalgic and fun. He also wrote the type of experiences in his own life that made you think “Yay, I’m not the only one who does that or thinks that way!”. I could relate to several of his stories–and thought they were so true. I did enjoy that he related to the reader a lot.

Overall, I am only taking one star off for the content–just because I think a humorous book, should have been just a bit more humorous–but I think the book really earned the other 4 stars. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy short, “humorous” reads. I personally did not think it was very funny, but I read several review of other readers who thought it was hilarious. So you never know! You should give this book a try!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Robinson, Jr. is so formal; call me Jim. People have also referred to me as James, Jay, Jayzer, and even Jimbo. (You can thank my middle daughter for the Jimbo thing. Kids have no respect for authority these days.) I’m a sixty-year-old father of three, thirty-plus daughters and grandfather of four who has been battered by gravity unmercilessly (see Fighting the Effects of Gravity). I was late getting into the writing game. Mainly because I was busy having children and trying to keep them fed.

I have written and published most of the books that you see here since 2012. My first book, Fighting the Effects of Gravity, was a long-term project that I started long before the digital revolution. My next book, Death of a Shrinking Violet, consists of 13 essays including the memorable entry, “Damn You Sam’s Club!” My latest work, a novella, is my first foray into the world of fiction. Along the way, I have managed to take home two Five-Star Readers’ Favorite Reviews and become an Indie Excellence and Readers’ Favorite Award finalist.

Author Links:

Instagram : Facebook : Amazon

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My most dramatic literary pilgrimage has been my lifelong journey from babe in the woods (in literary terms) at age 43—the year 1995–when I began writing in earnest to now as I write my 7th book. As I look back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how little I knew when I first began writing. 

When I began writing at age 45, there was no digital media—no internet, no email, no Kindles or Nooks. I wrote query letters to agents and included a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I went through 4 agents without getting a book deal. I put out my first Kindle book in 2012 at the age of 60–it took me 15 years to get the right cover and content–and entitled it: Fighting the Effects of Gravity: One Man’s Journey Into Middle Life. 

I’m on my 7th book since then including three fiction books but nonfiction seems to be my thing. As they say, It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.

2. What is the first book that made you cry?

Since I’m a fan of non-fiction genre, especially satire and humor, I’d have to say I’ve never really cried while reading a book. Sorry.

3. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Since I self-publish, I haven’t found too many unscrupulous practices in that industry. Early in my writing career when I was soliciting agents, they would sometimes ask for a reading fee before they would look at your manuscript even though such fees were strongly forbidden. I’m not sure if this practice is done anymore. 

With my first book, I joined a company called iUniverse just to take advantage of the new digital publishing craze that was taking place. They helped to improve my book. They editor whose services I purchased, really changed my life. But when I tried to get out of their group, I found out that they essentially owned the rights and I had to buy my way out.   

4. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. Working on a first draft or the initial stages of a book or other work is exhausting. Working on a piece that I’ve already put the hard work into is exhilarating. Especially when dealing with humor. 

5.What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Thinking that your writing is the best that it can be without professional editing. Offer up the best that you have, hire a professional editor, and get ready for a long period of editing. Thinking that you will make a great deal of money with your writing. I only know of a few people that do. Work hard getting your books out there to readers and be happy with whatever few books that you manage to sell.

6. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

A passion for writing, a willingness to learn, and hard work are the basis for a good writer. An ego helps nothing. A person with a large ego would probably think more of their writing than they should and refuse advice.

7. What is your writing Kryptonite?

I would have say that first drafts are like Kryptonite to me. Sometimes my initial drafts are so bad that I don’t see the need to go any further. “This will never amount to anything,” I say to myself. But I keep on plugging away and that horrible duckling using turns into my version of a swan. 

8. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

I am inflicted with reader’s block. People can’t understand how I can be a writer and read so little. I think I worry that it will ruin my originality. Sometimes I think that I just don’t have the patience. I am also a lover of movies and that  takes away from reading time. I will, however, diligently read a friend’s book and leave a review and they will do the same for me.

9. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I actually have considered it. I thought it might be fun. A couple of my writing friends do it. But I think it’s mainly for romance authors and I’ve never been able to come up with a good name. What would I call myself? How about Jerome Alexander? I’ll keep trying.

10. do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

My only goal is to be original. Have you ever heard the song, “I gotta be me…? Well, I can’t be anyone but myself. I’m sure I could write romances if I wanted but I hate the stuff. I have this warped sense of humor. When I sit down to write, that’s what comes out. It would be nice if readers enjoyed it but, if not, oh well.

Merry Christmas!! Happy Day SEVEN of Blogmas!

Brave Surrender by Kim Walker Smith // Book Review

Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (April 2, 2019)
ISBN-10: 0310353998
Genre: Non fiction, memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review. All thoughts are my own and I was not required to post a positive review.

SYNOPSIS:

Kim Walker Smith’s passionate performance of “How He Loves” helped transform Jesus Culture into a global worship movement. Brave Surrender is the story of how Kim journeyed from a place of shame and fear to stages around the world where she boldly proclaims the unconditional love of God. Through her own story, Kim inspires us to experience true freedom and healing with Jesus.

Coming from a painful childhood, Kim struggled to believe that God could heal her heart or bring any sense from her past. Yet when faced with the choice to hand her struggles over to God and receive His love in return, everything began to change. On the other side of surrender, Kim began a journey of looking at one painful memory at a time with God and exchanging her perspective for His truth – a journey in which God rewrote her story of pain into a story of redemption and hope.

If you are longing to experience God more than the shame or hurts of your past, the pressures of your present, or the fear of your future, Brave Surrender offers a soul-healing path forward. As Kim learned in her own life, the first step – and the bravest step – is letting go. Once we let go of anything that gets between us and God, we are freed to take hold of the life that truly matters. As Kim writes, “When we encounter God’s love, it changes the way we see. And when we learn to see what He sees, we will never be the same again.”

MY REVIEW:

I first heard Kim Walker Smith on the radio, but I didn’t hear enough of her to get an opinion. Later that same year, I attended a Christmas K-love concert, where she was one of the lead singers, and I heard a whole lot more of her voice and songs. Overall, I thought she was a great singer, so when I saw that she had written a book, I couldn’t wait to read it!

I always love reading the behind-the-scenes of public figures, and Kim Walker Smith was no different. I really enjoyed reading about what she was like behind the camera, as well as what led her up to being a singer for Jesus culture. Her story is broken, but beautifully unique.

I enjoyed her book, and thought she had a great writing style. She kept me intrigued into her story, and made me want to read it again. I thought a few parts of her story were a little weird–but that is my own opinion.

I would recommend this story to anybody who has heard Kim Walker Smith sing, as well, as to any readers who like learning about the behind-the-scenes of public figures.

Merry Christmas and Happy Day SIX of Blogmas!

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flag // Book Review

Length: 224 pages
Publisher: Vintage Books USA; New Ed edition (November 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 009949048X
Genre: Fiction, Christmas Story
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SYNOPSIS:

With the same incomparable style and warm, inviting voice that have made her beloved by millions of readers far and wide, New York Times bestselling author Fannie Flagg has written an enchanting Christmas story of faith and hope for all ages that is sure to become a classic.

Deep in the southernmost part of Alabama, along the banks of a lazy winding river, lies the sleepy little community known as Lost River, a place that time itself seems to have forgotten. After a startling diagnosis from his doctor, Oswald T. Campbell leaves behind the cold and damp of the oncoming Chicago winter to spend what he believes will be his last Christmas in the warm and welcoming town of Lost River. There he meets the postman who delivers mail by boat, the store owner who nurses a broken heart, the ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who do clandestine good works. And he meets a little redbird named Jack, who is at the center of this tale of a magical Christmas when something so amazing happened that those who witnessed it have never forgotten it. Once you experience the wonder, you too will never forget A Redbird Christmas.

MY REVIEW:

I have never read a book written by Fannie Flagg so I didn’t know what to expect. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised.

When I first started the book, nothing drew me in, so I was a bit disappointed; however, I gradually got pulled into the book, until I could not put it down!

The characters were expertly written. The plot was beautiful and adorable, and festive. The POV switched between several different characters, so it gave the reader a look at the story from several different perspectives. Overall it really told the story, and made it very followable.

I loved the story line, and I liked the ending. The ending had a twist, but not enough to call it a surprise ending. It had a tragedy leading up to the ending so I was worried that this book would turn out how I absolutely HATE to have books end–with a sad ending. However–without spoiling what happens–I will just say that the author pleased me greatly with how she ended.

I wish I could say that I loved everything about this book and had no complaints, however, I can not. I was disappointed to read light bad language. There was nothing heavy, and when said, the words were not even that bad, but I thought they were used in an unnecessary way. I only take stars off a book for bad language if it is excessive or unnecessary, and unfortunately, in this book it was unnecessary.

In addition, the main character struggled with being an alcoholic–he used it as an escape from reality. However, he overcame this eventually, after he moved to his new home, so I will not take a star off for this.

Overall, the book was very festive, and beautiful (like I said before) and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely recommend this book–after warning about the few content issues I had–and would read it again if I was in the mood for a cute Christmas story. 😉

Merry Christmas and Happy Day 5 of Blogmas!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson // Book Review

Length: 128 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (April 12, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0064402754
Genre: Fiction, Christian Fiction, Humor, Holiday
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarming tale involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds, and six rowdy kids.

Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are an awful bunch. They set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s toolshed, blackmailed Wanda Pierce to get her charm bracelet, and smacked Alice Wendelken across the head. And that’s just the start! When the Herdmans show up at church for the free snacks and suddenly take over the Christmas pageant, the other kids are shocked. It’s obvious that they’re up to no good. But Christmas magic is all around and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story before, start to reimagine it in their own way.

This year’s pageant is definitely like no other, but maybe that’s exactly what makes it so special.

MY REVIEW:

I would have to say that this is the most humorous holiday book I have ever read. It kept me laughing the whole time!

It’s a children’s chapter book, but I think the story is wonderful for all ages. A lot of us grew up being taught about Christmas and the birth of Jesus- but what about those who know nothing about it?

The Herdman kids were trouble makers who never set foot in a church–until they heard that Sunday school served snacks. Eventually they hear about the Christmas pageant that the church puts on every year–the play that shows the story of the night Jesus was born–and of course decide to sign up and take over all the lead roles. From Mary being portrayed by a rough-and-tumble teen, to the wise men bringing ham as a gift for Jesus instead of spices, the Herdmans paint a whole other picture on this famous story. The Herdmans have never heard the story of Jesus’ birth before, yet their perspective of what could have, and in their opinion, should have happened shed new light on the Christmas story. Their innocence, to this well known Bible story is a great picture of the whole purpose of Jesus’ life on Earth.

It is a good reminder that we often lose Christmas in the busy traditions. Just as the Christmas Pageant was messy and anything but ordinary so was the first Christmas so long ago.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a great book tradition to start. Bring this humorous–yet beautiful story into your home an learn a new perspective on the Christmas story–through the eyes of children.

Barbara Robinson weaves a beautifully-written story in her book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Even though it is a humorous story, it subtly redirects you to think and reconsider the amazing truth that Jesus really did choose to enter earth as a baby. This book is worth reading over and over.

Merry Christmas and Happy Day 3 of Blogmas!

Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong // Book Review

Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0718081447
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

SYNOPSIS:

Running for My Life is not a story about Africa or track and field athletics. It is about outrunning the devil and achieving the impossible faith, diligence, and the desire to give back. It is the American dream come true and a stark reminder that saving one can help to save thousands more.

Lopez Lomong chronicles his inspiring ascent from a barefoot lost boy of the Sudanese Civil War to a Nike sponsored athlete on the US Olympic Team. Though most of us fall somewhere between the catastrophic lows and dizzying highs of Lomong’s incredible life, every reader will find in his story the human spark to pursue dreams that might seem unthinkable, even from circumstances that might appear hopeless.

“Lopez Lomong’s story is one of true inspiration. His life is a story of courage, hard work, never giving up, and having hope where there is hopelessness all around. Lopez is a true role model.”

MICHAEL JOHNSON, Olympic Gold Medalist

“This true story of a Sudanese child refugee who became an Olympic star is powerful proof that God gives hope to the hopeless and shines a light in the darkest places. Don’t be surprised if after reading this incredible tale, you find yourself mysteriously drawn to run alongside him.”

RICHARD STEARNS, president, World Vision US and author of The Hole in Our Gospel

MY REVIEW:

Running For My Life is now my current top favorite book! It was an AMAZING story of perseverance and bravery. Lopez Lomong has a truly unique story to share.

This book is full of humor and suspense. I was laughing one moment and screaming at the book the next. Even my 6 and 11 year old siblings, who also read this book, loved it. They laughed and got into the book just as much as I did.

Running For My Life was impossible to put down. There was so much happening that I was afraid I would miss it if I paused.

When Lopez first arrived in the States after he immigrated from Sudan, the culture shock he experienced was hilarious. As he learned to use everyday objects and technology, it really showed how much we Americans take for granted.

The first restaurant Lopez ever went to in the States was McDonalds, and he thought it must be the best restaurant in all America because of the vast food choices. And when he was given his sandwich, he was afraid to eat the whole thing because he could not believe that he did not have to share it with anybody like he always did in Sudan. He said that in Sudan, the biggest meal they ever got was on Christmas Eve when they were given a whole chicken. However, each chicken was divided between ten other boys. Lopez, was also appalled at all the food Americans throw away. He saw people leaving the restaurant and throwing away half-eaten meals, and he thought that just one of those half-eaten meals would be enough to provide a meal for half of the boys in his tent.

This was only the beginning of Lopez’s shocking learning experience. As he began to learn the American ways, I was almost as surprised as he was to hear the comparison of what he was used to.

Not only that, but as I read his story I was so amazed at the determination that this guy possessed. He came from a third-world country and was used to so much poverty, that he had more gratitude in his heart for just the simple things, than I would say most Americans have for anything. He jumped at the opportunity to get an education, and worked his tail end off working for it. In addition, his dream had always been to run in the Olympics–from the time that he was just a young boy living in a refugee camp–and when he found out that it was possible if he worked really hard, that became his passion. He spent all his free time training, and took this opportunity as a true gift from God. He spent hours and hours, day in and day out, running. He trained so hard for the Olympics, and even when he was treated un-justly or un-fairly, he did not let it bother him, because he thought that if that was the price he had to pay for such a great gift as running in the Olympics, then he was grateful to bear it. I am telling you, I have never seen so much gratitude in one person before.

I have not even touched base with this book–there is so much packed into it. However, I am going to let you find out the rest…by reading it yourself!

I 100 % recommend this book to literally people of ALL ages. Like I said, even a 6 year old loved it! And with Christmas coming up, it is the perfect stocking stuffer to give! If you order it on Amazon it is guaranteed to arrive before Christmas. And while you’re at it, pick up one for yourself as an early Christmas present! It is worth every penny.

The Christmas Helper by Lia Manea // Book Review

Length: 88 pages
Publisher: Build Your BLISSS (October 15, 2019)
ASIN: B08214W765
Genre: Non-fiction, Information, Holiday
Buy On: Amazon

Synopsis:

Find your Inspiration and Get Organized for a Truly Wonderful Christmas! 

The magic of Christmas comes from something intangible: a mix of anticipation, childhood memories, the smell of freshly baked goodies, the chatter of family members, the joy in the children’s eyes when they unwrap presents and from feeling grateful and being involved in festive activities.

From a more practical point of view, the secret of a perfect Christmas lies also in careful planning and organizing.  

Are you constantly trying to remember every person you need to buy a gift for? Your husband, your parents, your child’s teacher, your sister-in-law, your best friend… the list goes on and on.
What about the parties you are hosting or attending?
What about all the fun things you want to do for yourself and with your loved ones during the festive season?
How are you going to keep everything organized and not fall into the trap of overspending?

The solution: your very own Christmas Helper, to give you top tips and the tools you need for a blissful Christmas and a stress-free holiday, including:

* November and December planning and activities (plus templates: Christmas Gift Tracker, Holiday Bucket List, December Calendar Planner, Christmas Parties and Events Planner, Christmas Card Mailing List, Online Order Tracker)
* Home Décor tips
How to choose epic gifts and avoid the trap of universal gift guides
* Suggestions of festive-themed books, movies, games and activities
Easy delicious recipes and fun cocktails
* What to do for a green, eco-friendly Christmas
* All about Secret Santa at the office
* Festive cartoons and jokes.

To every Christmas enthusiast’s delight, the book includes the most Christmassy poem of all times: “T’was The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore.

This beautifully illustrated book comes with plenty of suggestions that will help you to:
* plan ahead so you can relax and enjoy the holiday season with your family
* schedule out activities and events so you will not miss anything important
* choose truly thoughtful gifts
* save time and keep track of your holiday spending
* enjoy a cozy time with friends and family at home
* create a festive celebration that will put Santa’s elves to shame

Also included: access to a download link for the Printables!
Disclaimer: this book may not be the best for the real Christmas ninjas out there, as it may not rise to their advanced level expectations. So, if your winter holidays preparations easily put Santa’s elves to shame and if your Christmas Planner is the stuff of legends, maybe just gift this book to your friend who is looking for some festive inspiration and for a cozy feel good read near the Christmas tree. She will thank you for it!

Get your copy now, spread Christmas cheer and be merry!

Hot tip: This book makes for a great Christmas gift and an affordable Stocking Suffer. Don’t forget to buy a few paperbacks for your friends who love everything Christmas!

Meet The Author:

Lia Manea is an author, interior decorator, happy mother of one and part of a beautiful family. She previously left the finance corporate world so she could better take care of her family, follow her interests and continue to learn and grow. She loves reading books, going to the movies, making sure that nothing goes to waste and occasionally travel the world.

Lia Manea wrote “Find That Perfect Gift!” with the intention to sum up her knowledge in the beautiful and creative area of gift giving and with the hope of helping as many people as possible in their efforts to offer moments of happiness to their loved ones. Her next book, “The Christmas Helper: Get Inspired and Organized for Magical Holidays” is meant to be a cozy read for anyone who loves everything Christmas and to offer inspiration and practical tools for avoiding overwhelm.

Get your FREE Checklist for Great Gifts at https://findthatperfectgift.weebly.com/your-checklist.html

Connect with the author: Amazon Goodreads

My Review:

Lia Manea just came out with her second book, “The Christmas Helper – Get Inspired and Organized for Magical Holidays”, and it is just as good as her first book–if not better!

I am always looking for holiday-inspired books around the holidays, so I was really excited when Lia contacted me and asked me to review her newest book. I really enjoyed her first book–Find That Perfect Gift–(you can read my review here), so I was expecting to enjoy The Christmas Helper just as well.

I sat down and read it in one read, because, it was so easy to read, yet interesting. I love short little books like this that pack a whole bunch of information and helpful tips into just a few short chapters. I have said many times before that I absolutely hate books that drone on and on to teach just teach a few principles. “The Christmas Helper” wax the complete opposite of this. It was the perfect length to satisfy the want I have sometimes to read something short with a nice cup of coffee (or Peppermint Mocha) or tea! I sometimes want just a short little book that I can read easily in one sitting while I am enjoying a short meal–or hot drink.

Not only did it satisfy this want, but I got a whole bunch of helpful tips for the holidays as well. Lia writes gift-getting and wrapping tips, game and craft ideas, as well some festive holiday recipes and even home décor tips. Could she have packed anything else in it?

Her writing style was awesome–she got straight to the point and didn’t waist anytime getting there, and opened some festive spirit to the reader in the process.

Whether you are struggling with trying to find the right gift, or entertain guests, or even just get some nice holiday tips, “The Christmas Helper” is the book for you! Get into a festive mood and acquire some knowledge in the process! Now is the perfect time to read “The Christmas Helper”.

Better Off Bald by Andrea Wilson Woods// Book Review, Author Interview, Giveaway

Length: 394 pages
Publisher: Build Your BLISSS (October 15, 2019)
ASIN: B07X3N6TCP
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Adrienne Wilson is a depressed, suicidal teenager–until the day she receives a diagnosis of stage IV liver cancer. Facing the fight of her life, Adrienne discovers how much she wants to live. In Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, Andrea Wilson Woods chronicles her sister’s remarkable life, from the time she was born to the day she dies at age fifteen. Written like a journal, Andrea takes the reader inside her and Adrienne’s journey explaining how she gained custody of Adrienne from their mother and how the sisters’ relationship evolved over time. Adrienne’s courageous spirit shines through as she squeezes more life into 147 days than most people do in a lifetime. From meeting Jay Leno to spending the day with Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Adrienne makes every moment count.As she lay dying, Adrienne teaches Andrea how to live.

My Review:

Cancer stories are always so hard for me to read, because it is so devastating for me, to read how helpless people are when they go through such an almost incurable disease. “Better Off Bald” was no different.

However, Adrienne fought the cancer with such a determination and bravery, that her story was also encouraging to read. She had more courage when she was sick and dyeing then most strong and healthy people have.

I had a hard time read parts of the book because Adrienne was so brave and optimistic during the toughest of times, that it made me realize just how much I have to work on.

I don’t mean to make this review about me, I am just trying so hard to let you know how strong and brave this girl was. I just cant imagine what it was like to go through it.

Better Off Bald was not just a story of an amazing life and cancer journey, but also a story of true love and devotion. I have never seen so much love and devotion between two sisters then Adrienne and her older sister Andrea.

Andrea stepped up to the plate and took on the role of Adrienne’s mother who had failed to take true care of her. Andrea loved Adrienne and encouraged her to be her–and nobody else.

Andrea showed Adrienne what true love between a mother and daughter should look like. She also showed her what true love between sisters is like.

Even throughout Adrienne’s entire cancer journey, Andrea stood beside her like a rock. She stayed through so many sleepless nights at the hospital, meticulously learned how to administer the meds so that Adrienne could suffer at home instead of a clinic, and just altogether made Adrienne know she was loved.

I do not think a sister could love her fellow sister more than Andrea loved her sister Adrienne. Just from reading the book I could tell Adrienne left this world with her heart as full as her life.

Adrienne is such an example of what strong and brave really is. And Andrea is a perfect example of how powerful love is.

Better Off Bald is such an incredibly amazing uet tragic story, and I hope I showed just a little bit of how much it meant to me.

If I could be just a fraction as brave as Adrienne was, and be able to love just a fraction of the amount Andrea did, I would be content.

About the Author:

ANDREA WILSON WOODS is a writer who loves to tell stories, and a patient advocate who founded the nonprofit Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. Andrea is the CEO and co-founder of Cancer University, a for-profit, social benefit, digital health company. With Cancer U, Andrea synergizes her talents of coaching, writing, teaching, and advocacy. For over ten years, Andrea worked in the education field as a teacher and professor for public and private schools as well as universities. Andrea obtained her master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California; her nonfiction writing has won national awards.

Author Interview:

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? Write more often. Write every day. Write for yourself.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? It hasn’t. At all. What people don’t tell you is that writing like training for an ultra marathon. The marathon isn’t over when your book is finished. The marathon begins the day your book is published. 

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? Investing in my education which connected me to terrific mentors. 

What does literary success look like to you? If someone comes up to me 10, 15, 25 years from now and tells me my book has made a positive impact on their lives, then I consider myself successful–not that I would turn down a Pulitzer. 😉

How many hours a day do you write? Right now, not nearly enough. Even when I’m not working on a new project, I journal every day. When I’m working on a book, I aim for 1500 words a day. 

What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult) Hmm … probably adulthood though our childhood shapes our experiences. 

What is your most unusual writing quirk? When I’m on a deadline, I reward and punish myself for meeting or not meeting my word count respectively. When I didn’t make my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of my book, I punished myself by contributing to Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. I wrote a note explaining why I was giving money asking them to never contact me again. They never did!

What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written? When I’m really tired, I forget how to spell the simplest of words like the. (Seriously.) 

When did you first start writing? I wrote a book in first grade about a little girl with a cat. I think it was part of a school project. I’m sure the book was awful!

What’s next for you? I have several other memoirs about other periods in my life, but they are on hold until I get my health tech startup Cancer University (https://cancer.university) off the ground and running smoothly.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night Afternoon!

Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far by Amy Grant // Book Review

Length: 256 pages
Publisher:   Three Rivers Press (October 7, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0767929675
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis:

One of America’s most popular music artists shares beautiful pieces of an unforgettable human mosaic, revealing pieces of a life in progress.

With her unmistakable voice and honest lyrics, Amy Grant has captured a unique place in American music. As the bestselling Christian music artist of all time, a crossover pop sensation, and the wife of country music star Vince Gill, Amy has lived much of her life in the spotlight, subject to adulation, speculation, and scrutiny. Now for the first time she bares her heart and soul to reveal thoughts on everything from motherhood and marriage to fame and forgiveness. Whether describing personal moments alone on a moonlit hillside or very public ones performing with the likes of Tony Bennett and James Taylor, Amy presents a captivating collection of beautiful reflections on life, love, and faith.

Includes Never Before Published Lyrics to New Songs

Rendered with the lyrical insight we see in her music, Amy reflects on the pieces of her life through the years, forming a vivid mosaic of memories rich in color, varied in texture, and united in their heartfelt design.

“Thanks to writing and remembering, I’m re-inspired to value both the mundane and magical moments. In trying to capture a few memories as best as I can, I give myself the gift of treasuring what has been so far a very full and meaningful life. I hope you will do the same with yours.” —Amy Grant

Amy Grant weaves original lyrics and poetry into a narrative patchwork of timeless candor in Mosaic. The pieces of her life so far provide stunning inspiration for her beloved fans. Mixing lighthearted reminiscences of her Tennessee childhood, poignant scenes from her life as a wife and mother, and down-to-earth insight from her celebrity stardom, Amy invites you into her world and gently leads you to fresh insights about your own.

Amy’s winsome personality and joyful authenticity radiate from each page, welcoming you into the satisfying company of a warm and compassionate artist—a woman who sees life through a unique and deeply personal lens.

Amy Grant got her start in the music business with a part-time job sweeping up a Nashville music studio, which provided the perfect opportunity to duplicate a tape of her original songs as a gift for her family. A studio executive overheard her recordings—and the rest is music history.

Since the surprising success of her debut album thirty years ago, Amy has grown into a music legend, with six Grammy Awards, twenty-six Dove Awards, and six pop chart-topping hits to her credit. An inductee into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame, she also was honored in 2006 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

My Review:

Amy Grant is my childhood!!! My mom has always loved her music, so growing up, I listened to it all the time. I distinctly remember, that it was not Christmas in our house until we turned on Amy Grant’s Christmas albums. To this day, I can not get in the Christmas spirit without listening to her voice on the radio.

Because I have so many great childhood memories attached to her voice, I really enjoyed hearing more about her life behind her songs and inspiration behind each verse.

Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far takes the reader behind the scenes of an iconic singer. The author shares some insight into her personal life, as well as what inspired her to write many of her hit songs. Behind every song she wrote is a story–either happy or sad–that drew the listeners in and attracted such a large audience.

Ay Grant had a great style of writing and I loved reading her book. She did engage me in her stories, and definitely did not drone on and on.

I was a tad disappointed that she did not share more about her life. I would have loved if the book could have been more like an autobiography. with more about her own life. Most of the book was stories behind her songs–what inspired her to write them. While I loved reading that, I also would have enjoyed hearing a story of her life–from birth to adulthood. I am curious who the person Amy Grant really is. I think it would have helped the book, if she would have shared who she really is–away from the stage. She did share stories from her life, but I would have loved some more detail.

Overall, I loved the book, and I do recommended it to all readers–those who love and listen to her songs, those who have never heard of her, or even those who are not fans of her. It gives unique insight behind a great singer!

Trek by Rand Bishop // Book Review and Author Interview

Length: 376 pages
Publisher:   BookBaby; 1 edition (July 10, 2019)
ASIN: B07V2K64T6
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir
Buy On: Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Early 2017. Rand Bishop’s heart was breaking. With post-election America turning mean, the Grammy-nominated songwriter/author couldn’t sit idly by. So, inspired by the woman called Peace Pilgrim, Rand — at 67, with chronic knee and foot issues, minimal camping experience, and zero knowledge about long-distance hiking — decided to TREK from Southern California to the Central Oregon Coast, a distance of 900 miles.

Understandably, concerned friends and family members attempted to dissuade Rand from a venture fraught with such potential peril. Still, he remained undeterred, convinced that traveling by foot offered his best opportunity to meet folks one-on-one, listen to their concerns, engage in civil, constructive dialogue, and locate patches of common ground. Amid the dissonance of tribal rancor and blame, Rand needed to know there were still nice people out there. So, he went searching for a kinder America.

With TREK, the author invites the reader along, as he pushes a jury-rigged cart christened “the Pilgrimmobile” over urban sidewalks into the hinterlands, along dedicated bike paths, aside interstate highways, through neighborhoods and massive industrial parks, on narrow, decaying blacktop and remote, rutted, mountain trails. The pilgrim treks past windswept corporate farms, then inhales fresh, salty breezes, dwarfed by the awesome, dramatic beauty of the Pacific coastline.

Facing constant alienation from the common presumption that a grey-bearded, cart-pushing pilgrim must be homeless, he confronts seemingly insurmountable grades, spans precarious bridges, encounters wild animals, endures relentless wind, moisture, hunger, blisters, exhaustion, and loneliness.

The pilgrim gets spat upon, spattered with gravel, nearly knocked down a cliff by a Goliath RV. One fateful afternoon, the earth literally swallows him whole, buries him in dirt and rocks, and straps him down with thorny blackberry vines.

But, readers can take heart, because these difficulties are far outnumbered by spontaneous demonstrations of kindness and generosity from myriad Good Samaritans. Meanwhile, the pilgrim hangs with the homeless, convenes with fellow seasoned adventurers, lends an empathetic ear to the forlorn, the dispossessed, and the self-possessed, performs impromptu campground concerts, and withstands evangelical attempts to save his immortal soul.

By TREK’s end, after meeting a thousand fellow humans over the course of one life-changing spring and summer, Rand Bishop returns home nourished with the knowledge that, one-on-one, the vast majority of us are not only nice, but kind, caring, and often generous. And, despite our obvious differences, we have far more in common as individuals than we might have assumed.

My Thoughts:

Trek was an incredibly unique memoir. I have read many memoirs in the last few years as memoirs are my current favorite genre, but none nearly as unique as Rand Bishop’s. Of course, each writer’s story and book is unique in its own way, but Rand’s story just made me read in awe. I have never read about a person’s pilgrimage–let alone from an author’s point of view–so his story was so neat to read. I loved how he wrote his book in the form of a journal/diary with an entry written every day of his pilgrimage. It made the story so much more personal to the reader as it gave the impression of reading Rand’s personal life and thoughts. He gave a glimpse of what it was like to walk 900 miles across U.S. terrain both physically and emotionally. I admire his devotion to peace as well as his courage to do something about it. We all have something in our lives or the world that we want to do something about, but it takes someone special to actually do something about it. Rand Bishop did something about it.

About the Author:

Oregon native Rand Bishop grew up in the suburbs of Portland fixated on two equally impractical career paths: stage actor or rock star. Between attending Oberlin College and the University of Washington, a season of bit parts at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival made his choice obvious. Rand ran away with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. During the 1970s and ’80s, Rand recorded for Elektra, A&M, Sony, and MCA and shared stages with The Doors, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, and Credence Clearwater, while honing his tune-smithing craft. Tiring of the road, he transitioned to “the other side of the desk,” to earn his stripes as a platinum record producer, talent-development executive, and music publisher. An in-demand studio singer, Rand harmonized with the Beach Boys, Rita Coolidge, Kris Kristofferson, Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo, Graham Nash, Tim Curry, and Quiet Riot. As a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning, Million-play songwriter, Rand counts 300-plus diverse credits: from Cheap Trick to Tim McGraw, Heart to Indigo Girls. He has contributed compositions to more than a dozen feature-film and TV soundtracks and several stage musicals. Rand’s song catalogue has generated over 20 million sales and continues to rack up millions of broadcast performances year after year. Positive public response to “My List” (Tim James/Rand Bishop) ― a five-week #1 for Toby Keith, and the most-played country single of 2002 ― inspired Rand to co-author My List: 24 Reflections on Life’s Priorities (McGraw-Hill, 2003). After that publication, he authored two career guides for aspiring songwriters (Makin’ Stuff Up and The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success) both issued by Alfred Music Publishing. Rand’s self-published novel/mock memoir Grand Pop spent a year in development as a premium-cable series under producer Ken Topolsky (The Wonder Years, Party of Five). Rand’s latest book is the self-published memoir, TREK: My Peace Pilgrimage in Search of a Kinder America. Rand is a produced playwright, an award-winning/optioned screenwriter and, for six years, contributed a regular column to American Songwriter Magazine. He has guest lectured at colleges, sat on music industry panels, facilitated creative workshops, and remains a highly respected songwriting coach. Rand has served on the boards of directors for three non-profits: Songwriters and Artists for the Earth (SAFE), the Nashville Film Festival, and Peace Village, Inc. In 2012, after four decades in Los Angeles and Nashville, Rand returned to his home state to be of assistance to his aging parents. Residing in Newport, on the Central Oregon Coast, he is developing and staging a one-man musical multi-media performance piece entitled TREK on Stage, comprised of stories and songs inspired by his 2017 900-mile pilgrimage. Most days, Rand can be seen on Nye Beach taking his beagle Millie for yet another long walk.

Author Interview:

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? TREK is my fifth published book but my first attempt at a full-length memoir — if you define memoir as an autobiography that covers a specific period in the author’s life. I come from a songwriting background. A lot of people — even a lot of aspiring songwriters — assume that songs are beamed down from the Muse whole, complete and perfect, that we write them in a few minutes. While that might happen on rare occasions, the fact is, everything after the initial inspiration is about craft which means there’s almost always quite a bit of rewriting involved if you really want to create an airtight song. Introducing characters, situations, developing relationships, and conveying the entire story in three or four minutes with clarity and emotional impact means trying out a lot of ideas, making difficult word choices. Songs require succinct writing, using language economically. 

When I wrote my first book, I felt liberated, like I’d escaped the confines of the three-minute song. I enjoyed being able to expand and spread out, using words to explore the dynamics and nuances of thoughts and emotions. I could indulge in lengthy descriptive passages. And, even with all that freedom, it wasn’t a struggle to keep my earlier books within reasonable lengths. TREK was an altogether different experience. My first draft turned out to be more than twice as long than the recommended length for a commercial memoir. That surprised me. It was like I’d written a seven-minute song that needed to be shortened by half. It took many months to hone the tale down to a digestible portion. And, honestly, I still wish I’d been able to write a shorter book — if only because I’d prefer the font in the paperback to be bigger. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned over the course of your pilgrimage?   Before I started, I envisioned myself gaining a certain amount of notoriety along the way — you know, as the old Pied Piper Peace Pilgrim with his beagle pushing a cart up the west coast inspiring folks to set aside their differences and communicate civilly and constructively. I’m a Unitarian. It seemed reasonable to expect that Unitarian fellowships along my route would invite me to sing for their Sunday services, that parishioners would invite me to stay at their houses. Some would even invite friends over for spontaneous house concerts. One Unitarian minister put me up and another church gave me shelter. But that was it. I got smiles, some hugs, lots of encouraging words. But, no invites, no house concerts. Aside from friends I hadn’t seen in decades, the most open and generous people turned out to be friends of friends, or folks I just happened to meet purely by chance. 

And, as I trekked on, the more right it seemed that I wasn’t drawing attention from anyone outside of my Facebook friends. Because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think I was doing it for fame or ego. Being anonymous and unexpected actually gave me much better opportunities to meet people on an equal basis and have honest, unguarded communication. Still, it surprised me that I felt so content to trek those 900 miles without a bit of fanfare.          

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Actually, I’ve never been on a literary pilgrimage per se. That being said, I guess I could say that my entire life has been a literary pilgrimage of sorts. Life is a journey, often a pretty challenging one at that. Writing is my default mode, my way of coping with the short falls and the disappointments. When my brother died suddenly and unexpectedly, I sat down to write. Every time I got up from my desk, I’d start sobbing and break down. Writing about my brother got me through the initial shock and anger of losing him. 

I like to say that I write to find out what I know. And, when I come back later and read my own writing, I nearly always wonder how I could have possibly come up with those exact words… half the time because it sounds like a bunch of pointless, pretentious gobbledygook, and the rest of the time because I can’t believe I came up with these ideas, and had the wherewithal to capture them in writing. 

People often ask me if I’d do it again — another 900-mile pilgrimage. My knee-jerk response is always a very emphatic, definite, “No!” My feet still hurt two years after completing my trek. By mid-afternoon nearly every day of the 90 I spent pushing a heavy cart northward through California and Oregon, I questioned my own sanity for taking on what often seemed a totally foolhardy endeavor. Then, the next morning, I’d get up and start again with new vigor and optimism. I love to walk. Walking not only gives my body exercise, it sets my creative subconscious free. I still walk three to five miles a day on the beach with my dog. Typically, that’s when I come up with my best ideas. And, I really enjoy getting out in nature on a day hike. Sometimes I fantasize about walking the Camino de Santiago. But, I seriously doubt I’ll be taking on any more peace pilgrimages, especially on pavement, breathing heavy metal exhaust, climbing long grades, and jamming my toes into my sneakers on the other side. From now on, I think I’ll use more conventional transportation when I go out to meet people.     

What does literary success look like to you? Good question. Because success is always relative, isn’t it. In 2002, I was already what most people would call a successful songwriter… with a Grammy nomination, songs recorded by superstars, on platinum albums, movie soundtracks, all that. Then, one of my tunes spent five weeks at #1 and I experienced success on a whole different level. Public response to that song “My List” got me my first book deal, which is how I got bit by the literary bug. Having a #1 hit was an accomplishment that could never be taken from me. The recognition and the financial rewards felt really fulfilling. But that experience was transitory. The honest truth is I’m on the cusp of 70 and I still feel like I’m trying to make it in show business. 

Here’s something I’ve learned: Any success in the entertainment business depends on a whole lot of essential factors somehow converging together. Some of those factors are in the artist’s control — doing quality work, networking, etc. But a whole lot of what’s required for mass exposure and commercial success is about persevering long enough to allow synchronicity to happen. And still, even for some of the most talented creative people, that convergence never happens. Even though I haven’t achieved the commercial success and recognition of a Jon Krakauer or a Brene Brown, I feel fortunate to have survived as long as I have, and enjoyed the successes I’ve had.

Would I like greater success and recognition as an author? Absolutely — if for no other reason than it would give me the opportunity to go out and perform my one-man show TREK on Stage for packed houses of adoring fans. And, it would be really gratifying to know there’s a large, avid audience out there eager to read whatever words I write next. 

But, bottom line, it’s pretty cool to think that someone out there is probably listening to one of my songs right now, or reading my written words, and those people’s lives are being affected, hopefully in a positive way. Most writers write because we have to, not because we want to sell a ton of books and become famous authors. But, since we write, we should also want people to read our work, and be moved by it. So, I guess success for an author — or any creative artist, for that matter — has a lot to do with real people getting emotionally involved or intellectually stimulated by the work we feel compelled to create.      

Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” So, I guess, by that standard, I should consider myself a very successful and fortunate man.         

What was the most difficult scene to create in Trek? I tend to use an excess of descriptive words, especially in my earlier drafts. In TREK, I wanted to bring the reader on my journey with me. I want them to, as much as possible, visualize the dramatic beauty of the landscape, feel the chill and the strength of the wind and the heat rising from the blacktop. Choosing the precise language to capture my actual experience on the page, keeping it lean and economical, without getting self-indulgent or banal was an especially huge challenge in this book. 

Recounting the physical pain of walking up and down steep grades, crossing narrow bridges, while being exposed to constant traffic noise and pollution was also a challenge. As these were constant, everyday experiences, as essential as they are to the story, I had to pick and choose when and how I could even write about them. Otherwise, the entire book would have turned into a redundant list of complaints that no one would ever want to read. 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?  Not intentionally. Any secrets I might have, I keep to myself. The rest, I lay out there, naked in the light of day. I think negotiating everyday life is complicated enough. Just when we think things are going along smoothly, something invariably happens to throw us off the track. Life is about problem solving, which sometimes is a whole lot like decoding a puzzle, or a secret.  

There’s a scene in TREK where the metal frame of front wheel of my cart (“The Pilgrimmobile”) crumples. At that moment, blood rushed to my head and all I could hear was the pounding of my own heart in my ears. I was in overwhelm and my ability to comprehend anything was gone — temporarily. Here was a situation that required rational thinking and a realistic, step-by-step plan of action. But, in my addled brain, my only thought was worst case scenario — that my pilgrimage was over, my crazy, idealistic endeavor had come to its very inauspicious ending on a disintegrating sidewalk in Fremont, California. What seemed like a disaster in that moment turned out to be the segue into an important chapter during which I met some amazing people and learned some important, essential lessons. In life, secrets are revealed as they need to be revealed, and they can only be understood when we have the capacity to pay attention. Now that I think about it, that’s one of the major themes I explore on the pages of TREK. 

What are the best and most challenging things about being a writer? When people ask me what I do, I like to say “I make stuff up in my pajamas.” Then I’ll wink and add… “Beats laying bricks. No offense to any brick layers out there.” I’m not built for labor. So, I feel fortunate that, for most of my adult life, I’ve been able to spend most of my time doing what I love to do, what I feel compelled to do. I find satisfaction in laying my head on my pillow every night knowing that I’ve created something that wasn’t there before I woke up in the morning. Then comes the difficult part: creating commerce, which, like most creative types, I feel very uncomfortable about. 

Lots of talented, creative people don’t give themselves permission to live creatively. Every human being is born with a unique set of gifts. So, if we were granted our individual talents by a creative God force of some kind, don’t we have an obligation to reciprocate by developing those gifts to their highest potential and sharing them with others? I’m not saying that everybody should spend their lives making stuff up in their pajamas. Nor am I saying that everyone should be an artist of some kind. I’m saying that the world would be a much more peaceful, loving place, if more of us followed our natural childlike impulse to express ourselves creatively in our own unique ways. That’s how we pay that creative God force back for this brief life and for our native gifts. 

On the flip side, choosing to live a creative life is also a choice to live a life of uncertainty, or what most people would call “insecurity.” So, it’s understandable why so many people deny their creative natures and decide to take a more “secure” career route. And, I know — because I’ve experienced some very lean years and some very abundant ones — that life is a whole lot less stressful when have enough money and a solid roof over your head, food, all the essentials for a comfortable life. But, really, any sense of real “security” is imagined, and temporary. There’s always something we can feel insecure about, something to stress over, something we can find to be afraid of. It depends on how we look at it. We’re never in complete control of our actual life experience. All we can control is how we experience life — do we look at it as a daily grind or a trial by fire, or as an adventure. You either trust that the universe will always provide or you worry that it won’t. It’s your choice. There’s a phrase I love. I can’t remember where it came from: “I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t blinded by optimism.” Ironically, I’m not a cheerful, optimistic person by nature. My Finnish bloodline doesn’t flow in that direction. So, it takes constant, daily practice to correct my natural inclination to look on the dark side. 

What was the most gratifying experience of traveling by foot for 90 days? Well, first, there was that sense of accomplishment, conquering seemingly insurmountable grades against powerful, relentless winds, through heat, pushing myself physically, finding out what I’m made of. 

But, honestly, my greatest fulfillment came in the conversations I had with so many fascinating people, the characters, the eccentrics, the borderline crazies. These were people from every walk of life, all ages, ethnicities, religious faiths or lack thereof, the gamut in socio-economic status. Interestingly, most conversations would begin with them asking a question like, “Wow! What are you up to?” Then, most of the time, the subject would quickly be about them, not about me. Most folks were actually far more interested in having someone to listen to their story than in hearing about mine. So, I had to practice my listening skills, to really pay attention, and ask sincere questions of them. Because, ultimately, what we’re all looking for is connection with other people. And, connection begins with knowing that someone else cares enough to really listen without judgement. I had to rid myself of the bad habit of thinking about what I wanted to say next. There’s a reason for the phrase “giving” your attention. Because listening is a gift. On many occasions, listening to the most egocentric, sometimes even incoherent ramblings required dipping into my reserve tank for extra patience. But, it was worth it because I could actually see, in their body language, in the pitch of their voices, that having somebody to talk to was providing them with a measure of healing.  

And, in the long run, I discovered that even in a nation turned mean, not only are most of us nice, and kind. Many are truly generous. And, knowing that provided healing for my fractured heart. It gave me hope. And, that’s the main reason why I felt compelled to sit down in my pajamas every morning for well over a years and write the TREK story. A lot of people are feeling discouraged and disillusioned right now. If I can help someone see a glimmer of sunlight on the horizon, then I’ve done my job. And, by Emerson’s standards, that is success in and of itself.