A Review of The Angle of Flickering Light, by Gina Troisivi
Review of Knocked Down, by Aileen Weintraub
While I was completing my memoir about the challenges of motherhood, a writing buddy suggested I read Aileen Weintraub’s Knocked Down, a memoir about love, marriage, and her struggle with a difficult pregnancy, a story that reads like a novel. From the opening chapters, I was intrigued by the story of a city girl who marries a man who has inherited a dilapidated farmhouse. After leaving her fast-paced life in NYC, they move to rural upstate New York with dreams of renovating their new home. Weintraub becomes pregnant, and in her fourth month, her doctor discovers she has “monster” fibroids competing for womb space. Her doctor places her on strict bed rest for the next five months.
The author describes life from bed, and contrary to what one might imagine about being given a chance to lounge all day, this is a significant challenge. A series of mishaps followed.
As a mother of three, I had a similar experience with my pregnancies and related to Weintraub’s challenges as I eagerly read to the end of this book. I enjoyed every one of the author’s scenes, rich with humor and wit, and how she developed and described her cast of characters. Weintraub deftly wove an intricate backstory of her family and friends, but my favorite part of the book was the imaginary conversations with her deceased father as she sought his advice and counsel. By the end of the book, I was applauding.
A Review of Goodbye Again, by Candace Cahill
In Candace Cahill’s debut memoir, Goodbye Again, the author probes her grief over losing a son she had given up for adoption, reuniting with him years later, then losing him when he dies in his sleep before they had a chance to meet again.
The story opens as Candace faces decisions about her unplanned pregnancy. She agrees to give her son up in an open adoption, one where she can choose the adoptive parents. After relinquishing her son, she struggles with her choice. Readers are provided with an unflinching analysis of her experience of adoption and reluctance to share her grief. We are taken on a journey through personal growth, resilience, and love. The author brings together elements of a well-constructed novel— compelling and poignant—as Candace gives us a dive into the process of healing.
This memoir is filled with many poignant scenes, but the scene that made me sob uncontrollably was when Candace stands beside her son’s coffin and says, “I’m sorry I didn’t try harder… I’m sorry we didn’t have more time…I’m sorry I couldn’t be your mom,”.
The author deftly describes her cast of characters. My favorite was Candace’s tenderhearted, steadfast partner, Tom. She also examines her relationship with her mother—who withheld verbal expressions of love and turned a blind eye to the abuse her daughter suffered. Candace’s descriptions are every bit as complicated as her feelings of betrayal when she discovers what happened to her son’s adoptive mother. The most powerful line in the book was when the author states, “And suddenly I knew that Jane and I were the same.”
As part of Candace’s writing group, I have always admired her skill as a writer and read early versions of her manuscript. Her scenes captivated me, from the moment I began reading the final copy of Goodbye Again. I highly recommend this contemplative, profoundly moving story, an exploration of life, love, and death.
A Review of Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived, by Karen DeBonis
Karen DeBonis’s engaging memoir, Growth: A Mother, Her Son and the Brain Tumor They Survived is a story many women will relate to, especially those of us who grew up believing that in order to be liked, we had to present agreeable personas. Yet, when Karen’s eight-year-old son, Matthew, first exhibits a change in his behavior, she comes to the realization it’s difficult to remain agreeable and silent in the face of an uphill battle. As Karen tries to figure out how to help her son and find answers that will explain why Matthew’s “sharp-as-a-knife brain lost its edge,” she must figure out how she’s going to handle the dismissive attitudes of the doctors and other professionals.
As Matthew’s social interactions and thought processes falter, and doctors try to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with him, Karen finds herself challenged in a multitude of ways. The story progresses and readers follow the frustration and effects of misdiagnoses. I was in the middle of the story when I found myself nodding along in agreement. I, too, had to deal with similar challenges when my daughter was diagnosed with her disability.
In my opinion, the title, Growth perfectly illustrates how the author herself grew along with her son’s brain tumor. Karen learned to become more self-assertive and achieve more confidence in her ability to speak up because she was forced to advocate for her son. Those readers who haven’t had to face this type of challenge will still be able to relate to the universality of a mother’s love and desire to protect her child.
A Review of As Far As You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back, by Alle C. Hall
If you enjoyed Laura Davis’s book The Burning Light of Two Stars, you must read Alle C. Hall’s debut novel, As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back. Readers will be immediately drawn into this intricate, dramatic story of the effects of childhood sexual abuse. There are elements of betrayal as we learn the well-kept family secret: That the abusers are Carlie’s, (the main character,) father and her father’s friends. Carlie tells us how she handled the situation, “When you sensed danger, you left for the ceiling. That’s when you found yourself looking down on yourself, thinking, look what’s happening to me. When it wasn’t so scary, you moved only to the side. The first time it happened in my room, I was reading in bed when there was a noise from the hall, then the sound of him paused in my doorway.”
Hall’s vivid scenes and descriptions kept me riveted to the page. Carlie escapes her abusers and plans a strategic exit. A savvy teenager, she maps out her scheme to travel to the furthest place she can imagine, a journey that begins in Hong Kong. Readers who enjoyed Kristin Addis’s, A Thousand New Beginnings: Tales of Solo Female Travel Through Southeast Asia, can revisit Southeast Asia as Carlie navigates life on the run. We meet Cho and Ava, and journey along with Carlie as her new friends help her begin the healing process from her childhood trauma. The author threads a myriad of layers of connection, using Cho and Ava to guide us to the end of the story. The pacing of this novel was believable, laced with emotional, heart-wrenching scenes. Hall delivers a satisfying ending.
A Review of 99 Fire Hoops, by Allison Hong Merrill.
After hearing so many positive reviews of Allison Hong Merrill’s book, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, I knew I had to add it to my reading list and was intrigued from the moment I began reading. The author introduces the reader to her story with this perfect hook: “I discovered that I became a starter wife from a light switch.” Allison skillfully recounts her history of a difficult upbringing in Taiwan, ignored and abused by her mother, father, and stepmother. The plot thickens as she is swept off her feet by an American missionary, then faces subsequent trials at the hands of her husband and his family. Allison’s portrayal of each subsequent challenge kept me turning pages. I loved her author’s voice, her perseverance, her self-reflection, and most of all, her refusal to give in to the perils she faced. By the end of the book, I was cheering for her. This book deserves the accolades it’s already received. I highly recommend it. Brava!
A Review of a Book by Alexis Page, a fellow author at Vine Leaves Press. Buy her book, Work Hard, Not Smart
I LOVED IT
Work Hard, Not Smart: How to Make A Messy Literary Life by Alexis Paige (Vine Leaves Press, Feb. 2022) was written for writers like me who seek effective ways to learn the craft of writing, and yet who also struggle with focus and inattention. As someone who can relate to the ADHD-Inattentive Type diagnosis, I appreciated the story of how she came up with the title for her book. This book was a memoir as well as an instruction manual in how to write, and I was thoroughly entertained by the author’s stories and insights. How could I not relate to essays and stories of the author’s life, as she explored the different aspects of a writer’s journey? I nodded along in agreement in each section as she explored the challenges, successes, and failures that she met along the way. Although I am coming into writing late in life, I enjoyed the way Paige braided stories about how her writing journey, how she offered advice about the craft as she included it with chapters about her personal life, including infidelity and first-time journalism jobs. I appreciated her honesty, her point of view that analyzes mistakes without the accompanying self-reproach, and the most important element of who we are writing for: our readers.
A Review of Malnourished : A Memoir of Sisterhood and Hunger, by Cinthia Ritchie
Raised Voice Press sent me a complimentary copy of Cinthia Ritchie’s memoir, Malnourished A Memoir of Sisterhood and Hunger, with a request to write a review. If you like reading memoirs, this is a fairly good one. It took me time to read this, but I was intrigued as soon as I began.