Perspective by Peter Manouselis

This blog review was published on Reedsy/Discovery.

In this memoir, Peter Manouselis takes you through a spiritual journey of self-discovery, which unfolds in Greece. The story begins in the U.S. as Peter says his final goodbyes before embarking to Greece where his father, who lives there, registered Peter as a Greek citizen. Given the opportunity to build a life in Greece, Peter committed to learning Greek culture and language, reconnecting with his father and fully participating in the responsibilities of a Greek soldier. With these experiences, he yearned to frame his purpose in life.

Peter is forthcoming in his conflicted emotions about his relationship with his father as well as other frustrations, disappointments and revelations. Throughout the book, Peter shares his appreciation for the picturesque scenes of Greece, delineating panoramic views of nature’s bounty. With each trek, he describes his awe of the land, sea, olive trees and mountains.

“The sky was cloudless and the sea placid and creamy. As the sun rose, wonderful hues of orange and red and yellow spread across the sky. I watched, awestruck, as the colors deepened in shade and the sun bathed the earth in a powerful radiance and the sea grew clearer.”

Here are two examples of the many insightful gems embedded in the story:

“The moment one says, ‘You can’t,’ is the moment when greatness begins.”

“What if the cause of my utter confusion and rebellion was the fact I thought my only chance of success was to define myself.”

Male bonding and machismo were strong elements of the book in terms of the army experience and interactions with women. But also evident was a sensibility about the value of emotional connection and shared dreams. I recommend the book to readers who love memoir, travel and stories about making peace with your family, your heritage and yourself.

Paris Escapade by Ted Myers

This book review was published on Reedsy/Discovery.

This coming-of-age story surpassed my expectations. Written in the first person, I was immediately drawn into the escapades of a 17-year-old boy, Eddie Strull. It was as if I were reading a memoir, not a novel. When the story begins, Eddie has already planned his escape from New York via a supervised teen trip to Europe before venturing out on his own in Paris. The author weaves in real-life historic events, landmarks and tourist destinations. The book underscores the inevitability that we pay dues for the consequences of our actions. How we reconcile that reveals who we are.

“It’s not for me to forgive you Eddie. You have to forgive yourself.”

Early on, we learn about Eddie’s frustration with the hebetude of his life and his longing to be a writer. We know his plan. But we cannot anticipate the events that unfold as he befriends unique characters, falls in love, takes risks and perseveres on his mission. He makes decisions out of desperation and fear, ultimately making him a fugitive of the law. As he tenaciously and fortuitously continues to escape danger, the pages of this book turn swiftly. As Eddie stumbled from one multifarious situation to another, I wanted to catch him before he fell.

The ending threw me for a loop. I never saw it coming. It’s not the ending I was hoping for, and I am left with unanswered questions. I didn’t want to let Eddie go just yet, which is what makes the author’s style so appealing. The book is well-edited and a great read for all fans of coming-of-age novels. I think the story is particularly relatable to people familiar with a New York/Jewish background in the 50s and 60s who fantasized about or lived through the youthful backpack-through-Europe experience. This story takes you on that expedition albeit with many twists and turns.

From My Balcony to Yours by Nino Gugunishvili

From My Balcony to Yours by Nino Gugunishvili

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a charming memoir about the author’s experience during the pandemic from March to September 2020. It starts out a bit slow, but stick with it because Nino’s comments are insightful, humorous and frank. You have to give her credit for her admirable efforts at optimism:

“I guess what we come to understand is that ruined plans are not a catastrophe. That we can’t and don’t have to control everything around us and worry. That right now, we can be happy just because we’re alive. The future can wait.”

But after a while, the bedeviled social media and the pretense that we have adjusted well gets old. Nino refers to the “unwritten rule that you have to scrupulously follow unless you want to be left out from this world inhabited by love, where everyone is welcome.” Nino captured the social media experience so well:

“If you want to be a part of this vanity party, play by the rules. Play, and remember to say I love you as many times as possible. That’s your secret to virtual world domination and to endless, eternal happiness!”

Shunning the superficial dialogue we have succumbed to during the pandemic, she grew weary of Zoom and Facebook, and longed to reach out for a more meaningful connection:

“How can we be only profoundly concerned with nail trimming, hair coloring, and facials? There must be more existential dilemmas to be solved, in-depth revelations of what worries us, what makes us wake up at six o’clock in the morning, what we fear.”

Nino is forthcoming and says what many of us are thinking. The book is a quick and enjoyable read. I would have given it five stars but found it could benefit from some editing and proofreading.

I recommend this book to anyone, women in particular, interested in a straightforward perspective of the lockdown that is lighthearted but also gets to the heart of the matter.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy with a request to review.
My Rating: 4 stars.

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No One Knew by Renee Olivier

This book review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

Renee Olivier’s memoir was painful to read, not because it was poorly written but because it is so detailed, forthcoming, raw and enlightening. I was swept away with Olivier’s story of her relationship with Joe, her husband and a sociopath. The author shares the experience of living with someone who would continuously transmogrify from a loving, charming man to a person she did not even know. Joe’s ability to deceive, manipulate and “gaslight” put her in a state of mind where she second-guessed her own sensibility and reactions to the vagaries of his behavior. Her children, Ryan and Emma, and the children she raised with Joe, Hannah and Callie, were her salvation. Breaking up the family was unimaginable, but then so was the torment they all endured.

The primary theme is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD); how it is shrouded, manifested and destructive. I wanted to reach into the book and forcibly yank her out of the situation. It is so easy to ask, why didn’t you leave? Understanding this is a natural reaction from the outside looking in, Olivier takes the reader through the mechanics of her thinking to try to answer this question. I can only imagine how arduous it must have been for her to dig so deeply into the past and replay these dark memories.

The timeline of the story encompasses decades, but it was an incredibly fast read. I could not put it down. It carried me through a rollercoaster of emotions; fear, hope, anger, confusion, shock, empathy and, finally, relief. Olivier demonstrates a talent for touching on all the important facets of her story, giving depth when needed but keeping the story moving at a rapid pace. I feel vested in the people in her story and am hoping for a sequel so I can find if they turned out okay. That speaks to Olivier’s ability to connect you to her characters.

I highly recommend this book to readers who love memoir, especially one that teaches a valuable lesson: “Reclaim your life by standing up against anyone who takes away from your happiness.”

Overcome: Memoirs of a Suicide by Kimberly Tocco

This book review has been published on Reedsy/Discovery.

When memoir writers limn tragic stories, you get the sense or perhaps hope that transforming thoughts into words is therapeutic and that it provides them some level of comfort. What is distinctive about Kimberly Tocco’s memoir is that her story is a pursuit to help others and how, almost as a by-product, this helps her too.

The story begins with the normalcy of a typical family on the frenzied morning of a school day with a mom, Kimberly, trying to get the kids to eat breakfast before school as dad, Pete, needs to rush off to work. The children are Brian, 14, Jason, 13, and two-year-old twins, Joey and Petey. This was the morning Jason shot himself.

The stages-of-grief model are evident in her writing, but the author describes it in a unique way:

Denial and isolation come first, then anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I felt them all, or sometimes just one, and certainly not in this order. Yet they do show up in these stages and circulate, coming back, fading in and out, until you deal with them and find a way to work through them.

Kimberly opens her wounds to share the aftermath. Some people disconnected because of the stigma of suicide. Close friends inhibited her from airing her feelings when she desperately needed to talk about Jason. At the same time, strangers probed for details. Hurtful rumors spread. Pete was a rock for the family, but at what expense? The children seemed resilient; however, that did not stop Kimberly from feeling guilty about her inability to fully function for them. Honoring Jason’s memory was a recurring theme throughout the book, and in the end, that pursuit led to her survival, success and this book.

The author writes in a relatable style, and the book is well-edited. I read it quickly, feeling her pain and rooting for her as she began to jettison discouraging words, financial roadblocks, and the baggage filled with remnants of a painful personal history. When I finished the book, I felt like anything is possible and that you can create good from bad.

I recommend this book to people who have suffered a personal loss, want to understand how life is possible after that and need to know they are not alone.

The Bushido Way / a Sam Phillips Mystery by M. Anthony Phillips

This book review was published on Reedsy Discovery.

Sam Phillips is a private investigator in Los Angeles, and the year is 1976. The story begins after his return from active duty in Vietnam as he tries to leverage his military background to launch his own PI agency with his loyal secretary, Constance Turner. Sam is taunted by his landlord for past-due rent when his first client appears.

Michelle Yamada introduces her brother, Ken, and hires Sam to protect Ken from a dangerous Japanese gang known as Yokohama Black Rebels. Sam’s second client is Lauren Tolliver, a wealthy has-been actress who asks Sam to find an emerald stone necklace valued at $1.5 million. In both cases, Sam suspects his clients of withholding information but remains committed to do what he has been paid to do. He solicits the help of his friend, Armstrong Jones, an ex-convict who has PI aspirations of his own. The danger centers around Bushido, the Samurai’s code, which is “to exact revenge without hesitation.”

As a story of mystery and crime, it kept me intrigued and held my interest with surprises at several points in the story. It is written in the first person from Sam’s point of view. Sam takes the reader through his nightmares from the war, love interests, and the bonds he holds dearly with family and friends.

I found more than one part of the story out of sequence. For example: “I follow Ken and Michelle back to their place so he could pack up his belongings to bring back with me.” Following that statement is “I instruct Ken to sit low in the back seat as to not be recognized.” If Sam followed them in his car, how did Ken end up in his back seat? There are also events that seem to come out of nowhere, such as a marriage proposal that did not follow any surge of passion relatable to the reader. During the series of fatalities, I wanted to feel empathy for Sam, but the writing lacked the intensity of emotion.

I enjoyed the way the mysteries overlapped and unraveled. The side stories within the larger story kept it interesting. I prefer a writing style with more fervor so I could hold a strong connection to the characters, but as a mystery & crime book, the story line kept my attention.

Drawing a Line by William S. Hubbartt

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

Gina Girardi, a private investigator and former patrol officer in Chicago, is hired to find a killer. She accepts the assignment and temporarily puts her other work on the back burner to dedicate time to her new client, James O’Rielly. Mr. O’Rielly is the CEO of a successful American corporation. His two sons, Patrick and Sean, manage the finance and marketing/sales areas, respectively. The genre is mystery and crime, but as a possible motive for murder, the theme is sexual harassment in the workplace; where, when, why and how it happens, and the corporate culture that perpetuates it.

The story is written mostly in the first person from Gina’s perspective. At times, it switched to the third person. Considering the theme of sexual harassment, I can see where this made sense. Accusations of exploitation are often met with the defense that there are two sides to every story. Sean is the perpetrator in this book, proud of his ability to use women and get away with it. His extreme vanity obscured his view during those times when women were actually using him. In those instances, it was particularly enjoyable to peer into the thoughts of women who had leverage; just desserts for Sean’s untenable behavior. But the main theme was about the tragedy that falls to the victims and the devastating consequences that cascade to every aspect of their lives. The courtroom drama took on the nature of a legal thriller with captivating maneuvers and discoveries.

The book has all the elements of a fast-moving crime drama. I did come across many typos, including the name of the company. In some instances, it was spelled O’Rielly; in others, O’Reilly.

The primary reason I gave this book two stars is that I thought the writing style disrupted the flow. An example is the part where Gina attends a sexual harassment presentation, and her thoughts preceding and following the event. It seems like the author is using the book as a platform to inform the reader about the subject. Of course, awareness of sexual harassment is critically important. However, the ubiquity of this topic across media, academia, religious institutions and the corporate world makes the educational form of narrative seem dated and detracts from the mystery to be solved. It seems like Hubbartt is attempting to educate and entertain simultaneously, and I am not sure if the formula worked.

There were many times throughout the book where the author presented a recap of events as though the book was a television series where the viewer needed to be refreshed on the previous episode. Several times, the author defined vernacular that most people would know. Examples include “Facebook website, this so-called social media,” and “I set the phone into a dash-mounted holder. Now I could pay attention to driving with one touch.” These reminders and explanations seemed superfluous and caused the mystery at the center of the story to lose momentum.

The ending wonderfully closed up loose ends and left the reader curious about Gina’s next assignment. She is a likeable character and one I would want to follow.

A Saint and a Sinner by Stephen H. Donnelly with Diane O’Bryan

This review is published on Goodreads.

I have to admit my initial trepidation to read this book. Knowing it was the memoir of a priest, my thinking was that the narrative would not be relatable because I follow a different faith. I am glad I did not allow my concerns to stop me. The underlying themes are not only relatable but integral to our everyday lives on a conscious or subconscious level; mortal imperfection, remorse and forgiveness woven into the folds of the inescapable truth that our childhood experiences leave their mark on our core through adulthood.

Donnelly’s story is set against the backdrop of far-reaching historical events, including 9/11, rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s, disclosure of child abuse by clergy, and the tragedy of opioid addiction. The journey begins in the 1950s and ends in 2018. The setting is primarily Long Island, New York. In vivid detail, Donnelly describes his family trauma and winding road through priesthood, duplicity, infidelity, addiction, recovery, regression, reverence and enlightenment.

A hint of the inevitable is in the author’s reflection in the beginning, “As a young child, I realized that if I presented myself as perfect – caring, generous, understanding and compliant – then I could control how people felt about me. At all costs, I wanted to be loved!” In later years, a psychologist put this in perspective when she said, “your father’s rejection of you and your family at such an impressionable age imprinted the fear of rejection and the need to be seen as perfect in everyone else’s eyes.” I felt the exigency at each turn of events, internalizing his pain, seeing the red flags up ahead and wanting to magically transmit a warning through the pages: Beware!

Donnelly overcame gargantuan hurdles and evolved into a reverend priest and friend that deeply touched countless lives. When parishioners, friends and family outwardly acknowledged and celebrated his accomplishments, I wondered why the book did not end there. The fact that there was more to unravel took me by surprise. This book does not have a fairy-tale ending. My impression is that this memoir is meant to be thought provoking, daring readers to consider what haunts us, what we are capable of and, albeit some sins are untenable for some, why we should withhold judgment. I think most readers would agree the author has accomplished that.

Deadly Odds 3.0 by Allen Wyler

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

The story centers around Arnold Gold, an American with ties to the FBI, pitted against Naseem Farhad, a Middle Eastern terrorist with a personal vendetta. The story begins as Naseem presents herself after Arnold had begun to move on from past conflicts between them that left several people dead.

Naseem deploys her team with a vengeance, plotting to usurp Arnold’s state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system, SAM, insistent that it could be used as a weapon to strengthen her jihad. The story is about Arnold’s quest to protect those he loves as well as his system and to obliterate Naseem from his life once and for all. In an attempt to defeat Naseem, Arnold involves Palmer Davidson, his lawyer, and FBI Agent Gary Fisher.

This is a fast-paced techno-thriller suspense story written in the third-person point of view. It is the third in a series, and I think I would have appreciated it more had I read the first two books. I get the sense that if I understood the events and Arnold’s personal experiences that preceded this story, certain gaps would be filled. I was trying to understand Arnold’s role with the FBI as it was unclear if he served the agency solely as a technical expert, was more heavily involved in espionage or somehow got pulled into acts of terrorism because of his technical skill. To readers interested in this book, I recommend you add the earlier books in the series to your reading list before this one. Also, the dynamics between characters seemed off. For example, Arnold expressed strong feelings of friendship with Palmer Davidson but usually referred to him as Mr. Davidson while Davidson called Arnold by his first name.

The suspense was continuous from cover to cover as I found myself cheering for the good guys. I thought Arnold’s affection for his dog, who played a starring role in the story as Arnold’s beloved sidekick, was a cute touch and served well to offset the tension of the chase. The ending satisfied my appetite for closure and piqued my interest in the next book of the series.

 

Death Wins All Wars: Resisting the Draft in the 1960s by Daniel Holland

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

In this memoir, Daniel Holland transports the reader back to a time that will forever be remembered for the war, protests, police brutality, civil unrest, and an empowered generation convinced they had the power to change the world. Times have changed. Maybe not so much.

Holland gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of two combat zones; the one in Vietnam and the one at home in the United States, underpinning the themes of moral conscience, conviction and governmental authority. Each chapter begins with a running tally of deaths as a reminder of the sacrifice made by soldiers who lost their lives and the families who mourned them. Throughout the book are stories of the sacrifices made by protesters, activists and conscientious objectors strategizing how to achieve their overall objective of peace while risking imprisonment.

Holland interjects some levity, like when he describes the legal journey he navigated as a consequence for his acts of opposition to the war. In his initial interaction with the judge who addressed Daniel as “Danny” but objected to being addressed by his own first name, Daniel explained, “Miles, the greatest respect I can pay any man is to treat him as my equal. If you are going to use my first name, especially the familiar form, then it is only respectful I do likewise with you.” They came to terms on addressing each other as “Mister.” The judge confirmed agreement by saying, “Good. I’m glad we got that settled, Danny,” to which Danny responded, “Me too, Miles.”

But for the most part, the book is a serious look back at a tumultuous time in the U.S. and its impact on Holland’s life in particular. The buildup to stories of near-misses with the law and self-proclaimed patriots kept the story moving. One example is when Holland overheard people plotting a violent attack against him. The reader rides the intensity of emotions with him; fear conjoined with resolve. Be forewarned, however, that the book is clearly one-sided. Some readers may have an issue with that.

From a personal perspective, I am close enough in age to the author to remember those times well. But I was looking through the lens of a kid swept away with the landscape. Holland provides a window into what transpired in the inner circles of those who studied, committed to and deeply believed in the cause. His ability to provide that panorama makes this a book worth reading for those who lived through the era and the generations that followed. It serves as an inspiration to question objectionable laws that contradict morality and propagate crimes of humanity, and to stand up and be heard.