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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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.

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.

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.