Book Reviews

I give every book a chance, because I believe we can learn from anyone’s story.


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Crossing The Mangrove by Maryse Conde

Sitting in the waiting room for so many different appointments, this book transported me into another world, out of my cancer diagnosis and into Guadeloupe – a place I did not know much about. After my surgery, this book became my companion, and though it definitely had some dark themes and was depressing at points, this book put the world in perspective – something books often do.
Waiting room after waiting room. Stuck watching others have fun while you cannot. Not being able to move in your original full range of motion. Cancer sucks. But the bright side of recovering from surgery is that you can read more books! For years I have not been able to. I told myself over and over that the bright side of having cancer is that I would finally be able to slow down and read more books. And this I have accomplished, with this one being the first I have finished since my diagnosis and surgery.
As you read this book you develop a connection to Francis Sancher; the author does an excellent job of describing surroundings so that you feel you are there and you truly know the characters and the landscape. I can picture the gully, I can picture the trees. The book has history that I have never learned interwoven throughout. An awesome, eye-opening read!

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

I decided to read some Nancy Drew books as part of my research into my own latest book that I am currently working on. I knew about Nancy Drew as a child, but strangely enough, I have never read any of them! What immediately struck me about the writing is how different it is from the “young reader” books today. I hate to say that books now are “dumbed down”, but I’m afraid that is the best description. I would have probably read this book in third grade, but I was more into books like The Amityville Horror and all of Stephen King’s books at that time (I guess I was an advanced reader). That said, I am impressed with the eloquence of the language used in The Secret of the Old Clock. I’ve even started reading it to my own children, to show them that reading is fun and much better than watching movies! I’ve yet to convince them of this, but I will keep trying. I also noticed how classy the characters appear to be. Now, I know this is fiction, but you can just see the difference in the people of the time of the book’s publication (1930s) and now. Anyway, this one is a great story, it kept my interest, and I look forward to reading #2!

The Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Cate Coblentz

This book charmed me from the time I laid my eyes on its cover! Even though it is classified as juvenile fiction, I thought it had a message that every person, adult and child, could benefit from. The message of this book really resonated with me – Riches will pass and power. Beauty remains. Sing your own song.

I have always been one to “sing my own song” even when it has led to my being highly misunderstood. I’ve also come to find that I am happiest when I am creating something – whether it be writing a book, an article, drawing or painting, or even creating my own physical product. Even though this book was written in the 1940s, it rings true today as the Blue Cat teaches us that the current obsession with gold and possessions is indeed a dark spell.

The book brings readers back to a time when there was beauty and peace and contentment in people’s hearts, and teaches us that if we sing our own song and use our lives to fashion beauty, we can attain that peace and contentment once again.

Understanding the Constitution by J.W. Peltason

I don’t think many people really understand the Constitution or their rights given to them by the Constitution in the United States. If they did, the events of 2020 on would never have been allowed. The shut downs and mandates of 2020 and the years following would never have happened, the people of the United States would not have just gone along with it the way most did.

I recently read a statistic that 57% of Americans haven’t read the Constitution and 26% cannot name a single right protected by the First Amendment- not freedom of religion, free speech, nor freedom of assembly- not a single one.

I can’t remember learning about the Constitution, at least not in any depth, in middle or high school. I was only required to learn about it in college, due to my major, and I can’t say I paid attention. Those days, it didn’t seem like we needed to worry about our constitutionally protected rights, because things worked the way they were supposed to, for the most part. But as the Pandora’s box of 2020 opened, I realized I knew volumes more about the Constitution than the majority of people around me. I have watched as in the past few years our Constitution has been trampled on and disregarded by the people in charge – the people who are supposed to work for US – all under the guise of caring about our health. This little trick was used to lock people down, shutter their livelihoods, restrict their speech and freedom to assemble, control their movement, and to crush religious freedom. It’s been a disgusting time of mandates that go directly against the Constitution, yet many never said a peep, likely because they don’t know anything about the Constitution and the rights it protects.

I think everyone should read the Constitution itself and possibly a book like this one that teaches about it. While some of the books may have their own slant to their analysis, it’s still good to have read the document itself and be able to identify the rights that we should all strive to protect.

Glowing with Confidence by Laura Light

I think this book is great for anyone, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background and heritage. It has a ton of affirmations that DO serve to uplift as you read them. I am not a Black woman myself, but I found it interesting to read what insecurities were mentioned, and it makes one think, in those instances, from a different perspective than your own- which is a good thing! We all have things about ourselves that we may be insecure about, and this book can help readers rise above them.

A couple of the topics that really resonated with me:

The book talks about people who don’t support your success or try to diminish it. This has been something that I have always struggled with. I’ve always found that people (family and friends ironically) have frequently found it hard to support or celebrate my accomplishments. Let’s take social media, for instance- if I post a picture of a strangely shaped radish, many family and friends will chime in happily, but if I post a new feature one of my businesses is offering or something I have accomplished – not asking for a trophy or anything, but just sharing my success – crickets. Or even worse, I may get a seemingly snarky comment that implies my success in my chosen field does not deserve praise, but my position as, say, a wife or mom, does. That’s not to say that being a wife or mom (or both) is not worthy of praise, but why is it that the business accomplishments are ignored or maybe even backhandedly criticized or diminished?

This brings me to the second topic that really resonated with me- social media usage. I wrote an article about this years ago and it still, if not even more, rings true. The most unhappy individuals I know these days spend their time scrolling through social media, either living in the past or comparing their lives to others’ supposed lives, instead of making their OWN lives better in some way. This goes beyond just unwinding and using it as a way to relax after a long day of brain usage. Social media is a great tool, but when it’s used to compare your current existence or live in the past, and you find it does not make you feel good, you need to find another more productive use of your scrolling time.

This book has something for everyone, no matter your background. Bravo Laura Light! Thank you for sharing YOUR light.

**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less attracted me because the main character is a writer- I knew nothing more than that. This book really was a delightful escape, brilliantly written, and so much fun to read. Arthur Less is such a lovable character, and in his belief that he is unlovable he becomes all the more lovable. I related not only to Less’ clumsy innocence, but also to his overseas adventures. “That crazy quilt of a writer’s life” resonated with me- the author took me back to a time of dining on an old pirate ship on the shores of the Black Sea and evenings of rooftop toasts in South America. Like a really good dream, or a pleasant trip down memory lane, I was actually sad to have come to the end of this book. Well done, Mr. Greer. I look forward to the next in the series!

The Dream by Brett Farley

This is a haunting account of one man’s dream that took him on a spiritual journey of sorts and transformed his life. I won’t go into details, but I will say the imagery of the beach reminds me of a place where I always go to find peace and quiet. (A difficult task with little kids)

For someone who is interested in all aspects of religion, theology, and finding inspiration in life, this book quenches a thirst. Since finishing this book, I have been searching my little beach for a sand dollar, something that has eluded me thus far. You will have to read the book to understand the connection and importance of this magical find. It’s inspiring to read such a vivid and personal dream.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

This is a book I would read again and again. Historical fiction that completely fascinated me. What a beautifully woven tale- but I could gush for pages.

I remember when I was a kid and we learned about the Holocaust. I remember as a kid actually wondering if someone might have escaped Germany – as a Nazi – and moved to Thailand – because I met people who may have fit the description, as I was living in Thailand. I had learned enough in school and read enough on my own, even as an elementary-aged child, to have these thoughts. Yes, my imagination was always wild. The horseback riding instructors at the popular camp for young pre-teens in Thailand probably weren’t escaped Nazis. Even though they used to scrape our uneaten, chewed up bits of fried eggs off of our plates and eat them each morning. And shout in seemingly angry German (is there any other way?) at us as we tried to maneuver riding a horse.

In the end, I was too sensitive for horseback riding camp.

But, then as a high school graduate – yes, still a kid technically, at 17 years old – I made the trip to visit a concentration camp-turned-memorial in Austria. What a trip that was. To see the buildings, preserved as they were, kept intact to TEACH people what happened. Gas chambers, dissection tables, even blood stains still on the floor. Even at that age, as naive as I was on many levels, I knew the importance and that this must never happen again. And that I would fight injustice for the rest of my life.

Bravo to Ms. Jenoff. Thank you for your writing. I cannot wait to read more of your work.

Redefining the Top 1%: 7 Behaviors that Drive Shepherd Leadership by Dr. Trevor Blattner

This book had some great ideas and tips that, if incorporated into daily life, could benefit all individuals. Many of the behaviors, like avoiding multitasking, are ones I already apply in my life. There are some great quotes in the book, like Theodore Roosevelt’s “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain’s “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is  prepared to d ie at any time.” Epictetus’ “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.” I’d like to think that most of us know these things deep down, but sometimes we need to be reminded, and this book offers some wonderful reminders.

There is also some great sage advice in this book. Instead of me trying to summarize these tips, I’ll just put some of them here for you to consider:

There’s a misconception that happiness is the absence of responsibility. What is one thing you would focus on if nothing were impossible for you? Also, what would you do differently if you knew you only had one year to live?

The concept of the uselessness of following the herd in order to do what’s expected of you. When interviewed, the biggest regret people who were dying had was not living life on their own terms. This was the reason I left my job at the Agency. I was tired of not being able to live on my own terms. I took a huge risk leaving, but I have never regretted it.

Never spend energy on gossip, or worrying what others think of you (they’re likely not  thinking about you anyway).

Stop watching the news (it drains your energy and brings you needless anxiety).

You are born with this uniqueness, but part of your life journey is to bring this uniqueness out into the world through your work and contribution. The battle that weakens this inner burning desire and creates doubt is the herd mentality and the social pressure to fall in line and conform.

Look at all of the situations where you confronted risk and acted with courage, with no guarantee whether or not you would be successful. *I do this all the time!

We are in a time when the majority of us have simply lost touch with those who mean the most to us. You and I are in a mass of surface – level relationships. But then, who do you turn to when your business is in trouble, or you’re in a state of deep depression or anxiety?

Environmentalist Bill McKibben writes, “We’ve evolved into living a neighborless lifestyle; an average American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did 50 years ago. On average we have half as many close friends.” It’s such a paradox because we’re more connected than we’ve ever been due to the internet, but in many ways people have never felt more alone. Superficial connections simply do not bring deep meaning and fulfillment.

The wealthy understand that it’s not about all the “stuff” you own, and they set up systems to create value and accumulate value producing assets. Understand that the majority of the stuff you own falls into the category of  liabilities, not assets. The more stuff you own, the less success you can enjoy because you have more stuff to manage.

Fear sucks away all of your energy, but deep faith energizes.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sixty-five percent of Americans get less than the medically recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

There’s nothing at all wrong with never settling. Yet if your consistent orientation is that of striving at all times, if we’re addicted to striving, there’s very little room to invest deeply in those we are present with right now.

Dr. Wayne Dyer called this the disease of more.

Great book! You will be better off having read it!

**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reign: A Guide to Ruling Your Inner Kingdom of Self with Grace, Power, and Authenticity by Mary Krygiel

I loved this book, not only the text of it but also the art work. I thought it was a very creative way to walk readers through some essential concepts of traditional or ancient Chinese wisdom and philosophies on health. I loved the medieval settings described as a way to visualize the walk through the five elements. It sort of gave me a Game of Thrones meets Confucius type of vibe.
Beautiful work. Thank you for writing it!

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Incredible Cacao (Miss Tree Tales #2) by Deepa Remesh

In this second book of the Miss Tree Tales series two children learn a lot about chocolate and the trees from which it comes. This is a very sweet (pun intended) and valuable series of books for young readers.
Not only did I learn something from this story as an adult reader, but I can see the value in having school children read these books and learn about how trees and plants are important in all of our lives. Having recently come from California, where it seemed everyone was hell-bent on cutting all the trees down (go figure, California – the environmentally aware state), I embrace this series as a way to teach people about the importance that plant and tree life has. What better way to teach kids about life, and how life is sustained by trees and plants.

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

This book has everything you could possibly want in historical fiction – castles, witches, mermaids, bears – it’s just magical all around! I was initially drawn to the book because of the title – who wouldn’t want to read about a mermaid and a bear?
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book like this and what a world have I been missing! This book intertwines history with fantasy and magic and does it fantastically. Come to think of it, there’s actually a bit of everything in the story – romance, adventure, mystery, fun, fantasy and darkness, all rolled into one beautiful tale. Bravo Ms. Sinclair! I can’t wait for your next book!

Connoisseur Kids by Jennifer L. Scott

A friend gave me this book as a gift, and similar to as when the same friend gave me another by this author, I wondered if she had lost her mind. I have young children and ‘connoisseur’ is definitely not the word that comes to mind when I think about life with young children. But, as I always say, I give every book a chance because I think you can learn from anyone’s story. There is always something of worth to be learned. I see this book for being best for kids in perhaps their early teens or preteens. It teaches some good lessons for adults and children alike.
Some of the most noteworthy things I got from this book follow…
The antidote (or solution) to selfishness is thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness and serving others doesn’t come naturally and can often be the hardest choice to make. It’s easier just to be selfish and fulfill our own wants first.
The spell your name exercise would kick my butt.
The section on using kind words seems especially necessary these days. All people, not just kids, need to learn about how to counteract mean words with kind words and that gossip is speaking negatively about people when they are not there to defend themselves. Perhaps there should be an adult version of this book!
And, the final lesson of the book is one of the most needed in this day and age. It talks about the importance of laughter. We all need more laughter and fun in our lives. Let’s try not to take ourselves too seriously and learn once again how to laugh and have fun.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

This is a great, classic, first chapter book for young children in the early elementary grades. The chapters are short and the story is captivating and creative. “But my father and the dragon knew that nothing in the world would ever make them go back to Wild Island.” Boy, do I know that feeling! At many times during my life I have felt just like the baby dragon – whether it was leaving the Agency or leaving the broken state of California – I can certainly relate. This book may have even inspired me to branch out into this genre of writing. Perhaps I can free one or two captive dragons myself…. We’ll see.

That One Kid by Brian Mendler

This is an excellent book for teachers, administrators and parents to read. It focuses on the most difficult kids in school and the best methods to use with them to encourage them to be more productive members of the classroom. It presents the ideas for classroom management in the form of very informal notes written as feedback to specific educators and administrators. As someone who is NOT a teacher, I found the tips could easily translate to other situations and environments – perhaps as guidelines for dealing with difficult personalities in the workplace, or even at home with your children while attempting to persuade them to follow instructions. A great, quick easy-to-read guide that entertains while educating!

At Home with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

When a good friend of mine gave me this book as a gift, I have to admit, I questioned whether she really grasped what my life is like. I’ll be honest, I’m not one of those people who really worries about cleaning the house. It’s not that I live in filth, but I don’t feel bothered by a small amount of clutter, especially if it is kid-generated (toys, etc). But this book made me wish I was one of those people who truly devotes time to being tidy. This book managed to get me actually (a little) excited about cleaning the house. The tips on decluttering the hot spots were particularly useful for my lifestyle. On page 125 the author mentions something very timely for the current day. The tip is regarding processing the daily news while trying to stay informed of current events. We all have the potential to get sucked in, and this is some good advice on how to handle the negativity and sometimes plain-old manipulation present in today’s news media. I know many people who need to read this advice. I also know many people who already follow it, and their wisdom is to be admired. “If a situation is upsetting you and causing you to live in fear, take a few deep breaths and bring yourself to the present moment. Right in this very moment, you are okay. If you can do something today to help the situation, do it. If not, try to send the situation love and move on with your day.” Beyond the ideas presented in the book, I simply love the design of the book – it just looks beautiful and the layout is exquisite. Even though I’ve already tried and abandoned her method of folding towels, there is something for everyone to learn in this book. A good, tip-filled read!

Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado

This is a fantastic book that I believe everyone could benefit from reading. I think I have been a fairly anxious person in the past, though I’ve always been decent at masking it. Nowadays as an adult with a family of my own, I am less anxious about most things. But, since I have lived the life of “what if?” I now can recognize anxiety in other people more easily. I’m not talking about the overused term of today’s younger generation, but actual real dread and fear that some people feel every day. It’s comforting to think that we can place our worries on something or someone else. It’s refreshing to me to read about faith. I can understand now why people need faith and organized religion. I know too many people who stand at the banks of the If Only River mentioned in Chapter 7. They don’t live in a life of now, they only live in a life of constant want. I think striving for more in life is a good thing – but the people who are standing at the shore are the ones who never do anything about what they believe they need to make them happy. Perhaps this book would push those people to grab a canoe and start paddling across the river.

Real Estate 101: Building Wealth with Real Estate Investments by Gary Eldred

It took me a long time to pick this book up off of my shelf and finally read it. I suppose I thought it would be more like studying and less an enjoyable read. However, this book really surprised me. While the book is mainly about buying and selling real estate, which is of course interesting, I thought it would be solely about the subject but it actually contains some really good lessons and advice for any type of business. As a matter of fact, it was full of positive comments and self improvement tips that could apply to any situation in life. As a small business owner I feel like I can put much of the advice to work for me, even though I don’t work in the real estate field.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

This book is very enlightening and I am thankful it is out there. It is a great book for anyone who would like to learn more about autism, and unique in that it is spoken in the voice of a thirteen-year-old autistic boy. I hear the word ‘autistic’ thrown around a lot in today’s world. Reading this book to educate yourself about what autism really is, and its multiplex nature, can only help the world to be a better place. There is a story in this book that made me tear up so much that my contact went back behind my eyelid. My two-year-old, very concerned about mommy in tears on the sofa, promptly tattled on me immediately upon my husband returning home. Be prepared to be moved!

Juliet and Her Romeo by John Bercaw

A great short read that moves quickly and keeps the reader interested. This is a charming short story about young love, with a dark twist. I felt like I was reading someone’s diary and was a part of someone’s big secret. I had to remind myself at times that it is fiction.

The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice by Katarina West

This is a beautiful book written by one of my favorite authors. Ms. West writes the kind of books I want to buy hard copies of with which to stock my future library. My library in my beautiful oceanfront house in the Florida Keys.

This is not just a fanciful story about two women switching bodies and lives – it has such meaningful messages of hope, of doing good, of changing your life for the better.

It makes me think of how it seems that none of us are ever happy with what we have. We are always looking for what we don’t have. The woman who never got married dreams of finding someone and having kids, or perhaps adopting. The woman who is married with children wishes she could have some time to herself. Thumbing through her social media feeds she envies her single friends living seemingly indulgent lives. The woman who has nothing but time to herself wishes to find a man to spend her time with. She dreams of traveling to exotic countries with this perfect man who is somehow also very wealthy. The woman who has curly hair wishes it were straight. The woman with brown hair wants to have blonde locks… We are never happy with what we have. But what would happen if we were? What would happen if we could just accept what is?

Thank you Ms. West for an inspirational, thought-provoking and fun book.

The Teddy Bear Tree by Barbara Dillon

I was a stuffed animal-loving kid. Never played much with dolls, but I had TONS of stuffed animals. Obviously when I read this book as a child it spoke to me. I spent days upon days dreaming that my stuffed animals would talk to me the way Bertine’s teddy bear does. I fantasized and wished with all of my heart that my stuffed animals would one day come to life.

Reading this book as an adult I can still remember the magic it held for me as a young reader.

Bertine is lucky enough to have grown a teddy bear tree and she at first wants to keep all of the bears to herself. But as she realizes what a handful a bunch of live teddy bears can be, she decides to generously share all of her bears with her friends. This book is a great classic read that teaches about the value and importance of sharing.

How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

“…we compare other people’s highlight reels to our blooper reel and accept that illusion as reality”.

When I purchased this book I had no idea who Lilly Singh was, I just knew she had super cool hair. As I read the book, I truly learned a ton, not only about who Lilly Singh is, but about YouTube – a social media outlet that I had never really used (but quickly realized I should). Ms. Singh’s conversational tone spoke to me.
In a time when I am finding myself in more and more uncomfortable situations I take her advice to heart. For instance, as an author and inventor of a new baby product I have begun to get offers to do interviews with the media. I was even recently contacted by a casting director to be on a reality show.

I typically don’t feel much like a bawse, so even the idea of speaking on camera freaks me out. I don’t even like to Skype or FaceTime with friends and family.
As these appointments approached, I tried desperately to remember her advice about expanding out of your comfort zone. I struggled to show some sort of personality while interviewing for the reality show. I then studied her words prior to having my first media appearance on a news talk show. While I don’t think I succeeded in appearing as even a fraction of a bawse on either occasion, at least I tried. As tempted as I was to cancel both appointments, I showed up and did them. As Ms. Singh points out, the first ten times she does anything she is horrible at it. But those first ten times are crucial in order for her to be successful the eleventh time. I recognize that these are experiences that will help me to grow as a person. You must seek out situations that make you uncomfortable.

Her book inspired me to start my own YouTube channel. Granted I can’t dance or sing (or perform in any way), but I can promote my books and products. I can also cook, so I’ve started my own weekly cooking “show”. It’s a start, anyway, and I can honestly say I was inspired by Lilly Singh.

Now if you’ll please excuse me – I must go buy some colorful towels.

The Martha Rules by Martha Stewart

This is a great book for anyone starting, building or managing a business. Martha Stewart gives some important advice, peppered with anecdotes gleaned from her experience as a very successful businesswoman.

I absolutely love the way she is positive about everything, even her past incarceration. She finds an optimistic way to look at even negative events – learning from each experience and rising from the worst events as an even stronger entity.

Whether you are an experienced entrepreneur or just starting out on your journey, you need to read this book and soak in all of the wisdom it contains.

A Time for Penance by Robin Storey

A very creative tale that leaves the reader with an important lesson in self-reliance. With a taste of the supernatural, this dark psychological suspense novel made me simultaneously feel sympathy and disgust for the main character. This woman has everything taken from her (sometimes very much through her own actions), yet keeps on going. There is a message to this book – one of many actually – do not lose your identity in someone else. Also, stay away from cocaine.

At times very disturbing and dirty, the author does a magnificent job of sucking the reader into the story. The main character’s grim journey becomes your own, her missteps leading you further down a spiral staircase to potential ruin. From the moment I started reading this book, I could not put it down……

That said, I think I’ll go watch a Disney movie now.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

Isn’t it amazing the things we don’t do simply because we think we can’t do them?
I have been trying to find this book for years now. I had this vague memory of reading a book when I was in elementary school – the problem was, the only memory I had was a very fuzzy recollection of a children’s book about a very small dog – it was a poodle in my memory – something about gemstone eyes, and flying. I couldn’t remember if the dog flew, or why flying was even part of my memory and how it fit in to the story. So I did searches online and found this book. I wasn’t altogether convinced it was the right one, but I purchased it for my kids anyway. After reading it, I am happy to say that I have solved the mystery of the flying miniature dog with gem eyes of my distorted memory!

This is a wonderful tale for young readers (and adults like me). Very imaginative, original and timeless. A must read for all!

The Mighty Jungle by John Bercaw

When danger approaches, sing to it.

I had to remind myself numerous times throughout this book that it is a work of fiction – it is that realistic! While I’ve never been shot down in the jungles of Vietnam, I HAVE lived in Thailand and can vouch for the array of creatures and dangerous, even brutal, conditions that Mr. Bercaw describes. I almost feel as though I may have picked up a few survival tips while reading this book!
With wonderful, descriptive writing and concise language, this book is a true page-turner, and moves very quickly. As with Mr. Bercaw’s first book, A Pink Mist, I found the writing fascinating and hope there is a number three in the works.

The Crouching Beast by Frank Boccia

A testament to the vastness of the human spirit.

I was amazed by the detail in this book! Mr. Boccia transports the reader into his experience in Vietnam, leaving one feeling as if they were there and became acquainted with the many different personalities that he so deftly describes. I found the personal interactions and dialogue to be very authentic and chuckled often at some of the personality that was so clearly displayed.

The stories about Westman and Logan, in particular, touched my heart. I won’t give any of it away, but it moved me and really put a face on a war that I had previously only learned about in college.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again – there is nothing like reading about these men’s experiences to put your own life struggles into perspective. I would recommend everyone read books such as this one to get a glimpse of what hardship and honor really is.

“…There are more damn ways to get killed around here.” The book spares no gory detail of the bloodshed and death of the war. I did not realize and found it quite disturbing that so many of the deaths during the Vietnam War were due to “friendly fire”. So many young men lost… Who knows what they could have gone on to do with their lives.

Mr. Boccia eloquently states, “Thank you, if You do exist, for allowing me the privilege of knowing these men.” This book is not only the story of a battle fought now long ago, but it is the story of the transformation of a man.
I thank YOU, Frank Boccia, for allowing ME the privilege of getting to know these men, even if only to read about them in a book.

Warrior Patient by Temple Emmet Williams

A subject I genuinely never thought I would enjoy reading about – the story of a man’s journey through the treatment of his prostate cancer and his ensuing medical issues. Mr. Williams managed to make an unpleasant subject very humorous and entertaining. I found myself giggling madly (while also somehow cringing) at many points in the book – and that was certainly not something I would have expected upon purchasing it! After reading some of the horrible health experiences that Mr. Williams has suffered through with such grace, I am reminded not to take my health for granted. The book has plenty of life lessons in it, and should be read by anyone dealing with the crazy world of medical issues (a world in which we all will participate at some point in life).

A great writer, Mr. Williams brings the reader in to his experience with brilliance. I am left in awe of his strength and ability to overcome such tremendous health obstacles – he is truly a warrior. Here’s to your continued good health Mr. Williams!

How to Get Rid of Stress in 7 Days and Live Your Life in Balance by Jonny Nile

One tip that I read recently that I have found helpful in life is to read something (or watch/listen to something) inspirational or motivational in the morning. Something quick, something that doesn’t require too much time, but that gets your day started right. I follow this advice as much as is practicable for a mother of two small children, and find it gets my mind right for the remainder of the day. This is a good, quick read that offers tips on how to rid your life of stress. Written in clear, simple language, the advice can be incorporated into anyone’s busy life. I like the tip about breaking goals on your to-do list into smaller tasks in order to eliminate the stress that comes with being overwhelmed by huge responsibilities. Also, tagging habits is an interesting and useful tip to try to put into practice. This book reminds us to be humble and to reflect on our small place in the universe in order to put our daily stresses into perspective.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Self-Love Solution by Julian Lawrence

One tip that I read recently that I have found helpful in life is to read something (or watch/listen to something) inspirational or motivational in the morning. Something quick, something that doesn’t require too much time, but that gets your day started right. I follow this advice as much as is practicable for a mother of two small children, and find it gets my mind right for the remainder of the day. I like the practical, seven day breakdown of steps to take that the author gives the reader to help eliminate negativity and self-doubt from their life. The author gives some suggestions of visualization techniques that I found helpful – especially interesting to me was the one that incorporated circus music in the exercise. I appreciate the clear, simple tone of the writing. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to improve their life.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Bringing a Product to Market From Your Home by Gary Bronga

This is a great book for beginner entrepreneurs. Mr. Bronga offers clear and concise advice on how to bring a product to market at a low cost. I appreciated his straightforward writing style that did not waste my time. The book quickly answered many questions that I had. Mr. Bronga speaks from experience and with a humble style in which he admits his own beginner mistakes in order to save the reader the pain (and cost) of doing the same.
In my post-CIA officer life I am able to pursue new interests on which I previously could not focus – and armed with Mr. Bronga’s advice I hope to navigate this new world of business creativity successfully.

The Four Agreements, A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz

This book will hit home with many people. The first agreement is one I believe we all struggle with – to be impeccable with our word. How true it is that we all put spells on each other with our words, positive or negative. I know that I have had more than my share of negative spells put on me! The author offers some very timeless wisdom and lays out some clear advice that should we all follow, surely we could change the world. Perhaps the most important realization that I took from this book was that we can all program our minds to shape the way that our lives turn out. I only regret that I did not read this book years ago!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This is the type of book that I would like to give as a gift to all of my dearest friends. Dr. Kalanithi’s writing spoke directly to my heart and made me feel as if I knew him personally – as if I had an emotional investment in his treatment and hopeful recovery from a horrible disease. His bravery in the face of this disease was nothing short of inspirational.
As someone who has always been fascinated with diseases and all things medical, this book satisfied the curiosity that I felt, even as a child. (A curiosity only hindered by an aversion to needles and a tendency to faint while in the presence of someone having even a minor procedure, or even discussing one.) I was enthralled with Dr. Kalanithi’s descriptions of his work as a neurosurgeon, sometimes feeling a little faint at the images his descriptions brought up in my mind, and completely blown away by his courage and devotion to helping people in the face of terminal cancer.
His explanation of the joy that his newborn daughter filled him with brought me to tears. What strength it took him to write this book while dying.
Dr. Kalanithi was taken from the world at far too young of an age, but he left us an incredible gift in this book. If ever you find yourself looking for some perspective on life, give this book a read – you will find yourself forever changed.

One Night in Tehran by Luana Ehrlich

This is a great spy thriller – not just your average spy thriller though, it has some interesting twists that make it pretty original.
I found the main character to be incredibly likable. Titus Ray has the type of personality I would have loved to run across in my days at the CIA. Actually, I probably did meet one person like him, but that is a story for another day – or, I should say, another book – (mine). In all seriousness, I related to his inclination to be a loner. Ms. Ehrlich writes very skillfully about the inner workings of the Agency and gets some of the attitudes and personalities just right. On more than one occasion while reading this book I wondered if she had perhaps once been a CIA officer herself!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I struggled to write this review because the book was so good! This at times heartbreaking story was incredibly hard to put down. Two lives intertwined by fate and loss, the author takes the reader into the lives of Mariam and Laila as we witness the deep bond that forms between them through miserable circumstances. The characters were so well-developed that I felt like I knew them personally, and had to remind myself that they are fictional.
If you want to feel grateful for what you have, pick up this book. It shines a light on the abysmal way that women were (and I’m sure still are) treated in countries like Afghanistan. At times it is maddening, and I was angered by the injustice of their circumstances.
No words that I could write would do this book justice. Just read it.

Dare I Weep, Dare I Mourn? by John le Carre

This is a dark little tale that gives the reader a taste of le Carre’s writing. After reading this I know that I will be reading more of his work.

Sex and the Single Mom by Nancy Jo Sales

When I first chose to read this, I did not realize that it was an article about Angelina Jolie. I was initially drawn to it because the title intrigued me. I found the insights into a younger Ms. Jolie very interesting. Written when she only had one adopted child, pre-Brad Pitt, it gives a window into her world and is a good, quick read.

Blackwater Lake by Maggie James

This is a great, quick read for anyone who loves thrillers. I found it especially interesting how the author tied the hoarding of the main character’s mother into the story. I suppose it is a strange thing to find fascinating, but as someone who has known many hoarders in her life, and perhaps, during a more unhappy period in her own life, once been a bit of a hoarder herself, I guess the subject interests me.
Maggie James has gained a new fan!

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

What an amazing story and what an amazing woman Elizabeth Smart is to have lived through this awful nightmare and emerged so poised and strong. She is a true inspiration. It sickens me to know that human beings like Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee exist in this world.
I remember following Elizabeth Smart’s disappearance when it happened, and I recall exactly where I was and what I was doing when she was found. Her story has always fascinated me.
Reading Ms. Smart’s book, I lost hope in humanity. I only regained a semblance of hope once I read how well she is doing now, and how she is using the awful things that happened to her to help others. I just wish that no one in the world ever had to go through these types of experiences.
As depressing as Ms. Smart’s story was, I was inspired by her strength of faith and the end of the book was uplifting.

Now, excuse me while I go read something lighthearted….

The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver

What a cute and funny story! If you find yourself in need of some light reading, this is the story for you. The not-so-hidden meanings made me giggle and I loved how it is written as a fairy tale. Very charming.

Verse in Arabic by Birgitte Rasine

Ms. Rasine writes beautifully. I was truly transported into this story and felt myself wanting to solve the mystery as much as the main character did. I love how the author also gives the reader some insight into her mind with her explanation of how the story came to be.
The author never fails to capture the imagination with her beautiful prose. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future!

Daddy’s Hobby: Behind the Smile – The Story of Lek, A Bar Girl in Pattaya by Owen Jones

This is a unique book that gives the reader a view into the perspective of a Thai woman working in the Pattaya bar scene. Having spent some time myself as a child living in Thailand, and visiting Pattaya on vacations, I was fascinated by this story. As a child, I was not exposed to the seedier side of Pattaya, and thankfully had no clue about it. I only saw the beautiful side of the beach community, with its yacht clubs and sailing lessons.
The stories in the book remind me of the many tales I would hear from my male counterparts in the CIA, who had almost all gone to Thailand to experience the “local talent”. In fact, at times it seemed like it was a prerequisite to success for the male officers to have experienced the sex industry in Thailand. And yes, my experience is recent, even with the threat of contracting HIV.
At times I wondered if Craig, Lek’s love interest, was actually Archie from my own book. The thought made me cringe and laugh at the same time.
Although there were points in this book where I felt like I needed to take a shower due to the descriptions of some of the sex acts, I found the story kept my attention and I rooted for Lek to realize her dream of marrying a foreigner and escaping the Pattaya bar scene.

Blowback by Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett

I can honestly say that this is the first true spy thriller I have ever read, which may sound odd coming from a former CIA officer. It was entertaining, as this type of book should be, and I believe I will include this series in my future reading lists.
The relationship between the main character and her “inside” officer boyfriend is straight out of my real-life experience in the CIA – though we were both low-ranking officers and my experience is heavily redacted from my own non-fiction book.
I couldn’t help but giggle at the image of the twenty-somethings I knew in the Agency filling the main character’s role – toting guns and risking their lives to save the world from a nuclear arms dealer. The real-life images are much less physically fit specimens who considered eating salmon an exotic experience. That said, I appreciated the book as a work of fiction; it was fun and it kept my attention.

Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran by Barry Meier

Please note that this book review has been heavily redacted by the Central Intelligence Agency. The length of the black lines does not accurately reflect the amount of text that was removed from my original book review.

This is an excellent book about the disappearance of Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent            . This story hits close to home for me, as I was working at the CIA when Mr. Levinson vanished. A lot of the details in the book bring back old memories,            . At the time, I was new to the office I was working in,            . Years later, while posted on a field assignment, I attended a meeting with Senator Bill Nelson. I watched as Senator Nelson asked the very puzzled group about Mr. Levinson. All of the officers in the group were completely bewildered by the inquiry,            . The meeting left me with a very bad taste in my mouth.
Reading this book left me saddened by the disgraceful way that Mr. Levinson’s case was handled by all of the agencies involved.            
The book reads like a spy thriller, including intricately woven webs of deceit and a cast of characters seemingly straight out of a Hollywood film.            
I also truly wish that the story had a happy ending.

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

I discovered this book while researching successful books and series that have been made into movies or television shows. I found the writing to be great for adults and children, and I could picture reading this series with my children in years to come. While it is a sad tale, it is also inspiring to read the ways in which the recently orphaned children never give up. Fast-paced and entertaining, I will definitely continue on with this series!

The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree by Birgitte Rasine

The perfect combination of history, mythology, culture and chocolate! This book is a magical tale of a young boy who experiences the adventure of a lifetime in the rainforest of Guatemala. I loved the descriptive language and had to appreciate and admire the amount of research that clearly went into writing this book. A story for young and old, get ready to be taken into a colorful world where you will rediscover the wonders of nature. I can’t wait to follow Max on his next adventure!

A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili

This is truly an amazing book. The author takes the reader through some really horrific experiences – from the torture and rape of virgins prior to execution in Evin prison, to witnessing the stoning of a young woman – this book kept me thinking a long time after I had put it down.

Mr. Kahlili has successfully interwoven his personal, childhood experiences in Iran into the story of how a tyrannical regime completely distorted a seemingly promising revolution that he himself believed in deeply. He tells the heartbreaking story of three lifelong friends, torn apart by their very different political views. Having worked for the CIA myself, although at a later period in time, I recognize some of the same feelings of disillusionment that Mr. Kahlili expresses at certain points in the book. However, while most of the CIA officers the author was exposed to seemed to be confidence-inspiring, my experience was more akin to his with Andrew, albeit less intelligent versions of Andrew. I found the book to be horrifying, depressing, and heartwarming all at the same time.

I highly recommend that everyone read this book.

The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi

There are some books that I feel I simply cannot do justice to in a review, so I choose to pick out and highlight a few passages that really speak to me. This is what I have done for The Drowned and the Saved.

“We were able to understand very well, then, that on the great continent of freedom, freedom of communication is an important province. As with health, only the person who loses it realizes its true value. But one does not suffer from it only on an individual level: in countries and epochs in which communication is impeded, soon all other liberties wither; discussion dies by inanition, ignorance of the opinion of others becomes rampant, imposed opinions triumph…
“Intolerance is inclined to censor, and censorship promotes ignorance of the arguments of others and thus intolerance itself: a rigid, vicious circle that is hard to break.”

“They speak because (as a Yiddish saying goes) ‘troubles overcome are good to tell.’ Francesca tells Dante that there is ‘no greater sorrow / than to recall happy times / in misery,’ but the contrary is also true, as all those who have returned know: it is good to sit surrounded by warmth, before food and wine, and remind oneself and others of the fatigue, the cold and hunger.”

“There exist countries in which freedom was never known, because the need man naturally feels for it comes after other much more pressing needs: to resist cold, hunger, illnesses, parasites, animal and human aggressions. But in countries in which the elementary needs are satisfied, today’s young people experience freedom as a good that one must in no case renounce: one cannot do without it, it is a natural and obvious right, and furthermore, it is gratuitous, like health and the air one breathes. The times and places where this congenital right is denied are perceived as distant, foreign, and strange.”

“…it is part of our difficulty or inability to perceive the experience of others, which is all the more pronounced the more distant these experiences are from ours in time, space, or quality. We are prone to assimilate them to “related” ones, as if the hunger in Auschwitz were the same as that of someone who has skipped a meal, or as if escape from Treblinka were similar to an escape from any ordinary jail. It is the task of the historian to bridge this gap, which widens as we get farther away from the events under examination.”

“Yet, in every case, one can see that it is never the most oppressed individuals who stand at the head of movements: usually, in fact, revolutions are led by bold, open-minded leaders who throw themselves into the fray out of generosity (or perhaps ambition), even though they personally could have a secure and tranquil, perhaps even privileged life.”

“How securely do we live, we men of the century’s and millennium’s end? And, more specifically, we Europeans? We have been told, and there’s no reason to doubt it, that for every human being on the planet a quantity of nuclear explosive is stored equal to three or four tons of TNT. If even only 1 percent of it were used there would immediately be tens of millions dead, and frightening genetic damage to the entire human species, indeed to all life on earth, with the exception perhaps of the insects…
“The threat is different from that of the 1930s: less close but vaster; linked, in the opinion of some, to a demonism of history, new, still undecipherable, but not linked (until now) to human demonism.”

Murder is Misunderstood (Bad Mothers Club #1) by Heather Horrocks

Cute and fun is how I would describe this book. Before I read this book, I never knew what a “cozy mystery” was, and now I’m hooked. The author does an excellent job of describing her characters – she made me feel like I knew them. I found Becky to be quite lovable and the book accomplished just what this type of book should – entertain!

Tweeker Parade by Philippa LeVine

Definitely “Captured the Funny”!
I actually learned a lot from reading this book. It was disturbing, yet funny, to learn so much about the world of a tweeker. This book also gives some good insight into what the job of a DEA agent is really like. Ms. Levine even manages to make her time at headquarters entertaining, and I found myself seeing many correlations between her experience there and mine at CIA Headquarters. It is nice to read about someone who really loved their job and had so much passion for it. And, by the way, I loved the swearing!

Perfect on Paper: The (MIS)Adventures of Waverly Bryson by Maria Murnane

A great pick-me-up kind of book!
This is such a cute story. If you are having Sex and the City withdrawals, I think it can fill the void. I particularly loved Waverly’s clumsy moments. The San Francisco references were awesome – and quite accurate. Overall, it was a great light read with a nice message.

Absolute Truth, For Beginners by Katarina West

What a thoroughly pleasant surprise this book was! Not because I had any doubt about Ms. West’s talent, but because I had no idea what this book was about. I just didn’t grasp what I was in store for, so I began the book with completely open eyes, and quickly became mesmerized with the words I read! It blew me away!
Ms. West creates such likable characters. I commiserated with Elisa – I felt her nervousness and inability to enjoy the company of someone due to feelings of inadequacy… I have also felt the desperation of not being able to let go, of waiting for that one phone call.
I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I will end with saying that I feel like I actually mourned this book when I finished it. That’s how good it was.

The Bhagavad-Gita translated by Barbara Stoler Miller

Since I could never do justice to such an ancient text, instead of doing a traditional book review of The Bhagavad-Gita, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, I thought I would share some wise words from this famous book.

From the Introduction: “Krishna does not condone physical violence. Instead, he identifies the real enemy as desire, due to attachment, an enemy that can only be overcome by arming oneself with discipline and acting to transcend the narrow limits of individual desire.”

“Contacts with matter make us feel heat and cold, pleasure and pain. Arjuna, you must learn to endure fleeting things – they come and go!
When these cannot torment a man, when suffering and joy are equal for him and he has courage, he is fit for immortality.”

“Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success – this equanimity is called discipline.”

“Self-reliant, impartial to suffering and joy, to clay, stone, or gold, the resolute man is the same to foe and friend, to blame and praise.
The same in honor, and disgrace, to ally and enemy, a man who abandons involvements transcends the qualities of nature.”

From the Afterword – Referring to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Emerson is chiefly interested in Krishna’s teaching that works must be done without thought of reward and that a person may have a tranquil mind even in activity.”

Happy New Year everyone!

Corrupted by Emmy Yoshida

Romance, drama, intrigue… This book has it all! This book took me on a journey through some of my own memories. I sort of related to Ria, yet I was never that carefree, only wished to be. But this story has it all. While reading Corrupted I experienced flashes of memory of some of the men I’ve been exposed to in my life – though certainly none were as violent as Brad. For those who know what it is like to feel like a caged animal, and love the feeling of triumph, this book is for you. Bravo, Emmy Yoshida!

Snow Kissed Christmas by Bobby Hutchinson

Getting in the mood for Christmas!
Another very cute short story by Bobby Hutchinson. She really knows how to bring you into the story and make you feel like you are actually there. This story is a great holiday read. It teaches you to enjoy the people around you and appreciate what you have.

Carol’s Christmas by Bobby Hutchinson

Take me away, to a place where women had less choices! A very cute story that takes you to another place and time… I loved it. I have often wondered how women in past times dealt with having babies, because, if you have had one, you realize that it frequently is NOT the easiest, most relaxing experience. There is no infant sleeping peacefully in your lap all day as you read a book. Let’s face it, raising a child is HARD, no matter what your circumstance is. This Christmas tale warmed my heart, made me wonder, and that is what a short story should do.

Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West

Wonderful book! I found myself drawn in to the story and sympathizing with the main character – sympathizing with his self-doubt/self-loathing. All of his mistakes felt like my own. Exceptional writing. Not since being a child, reading Stephen King novels, have I found a writer that engages me the way Ms. West does. I will read this book over again and hope that there is another in the future!!

A Pink MistA Pink Mist by John Bercaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic read – I couldn’t put this book down!! As a former student of political science/international relations, I can’t help thinking that this would make great college course reading. Had this been a book in my university curriculum I would have undoubtedly gotten better grades! This book really puts life into perspective. Any time I feel like whining about petty problems, all I have to do is read parts of this book to see how hard life can really be, as it was for soldiers in the Vietnam War. It reminds me of an expression the father of one of my former friends and co-workers at the CIA used to use when she complained about something trifling or had a fear of something. He would say, “How bad could it be? What are they gonna do – shave your head and send you to Vietnam?” Great book.

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