review by Candi Sary
PUBLISHER: Dream of Things
Donny’s mother Betty is a mess. She’s a con artist, a compulsive liar, a neglectful, horrible mother who brings home loser boyfriends that abuse her kids. Donny is often left to take care of his two younger brothers even though he is just a kid himself. They live in a rough neighborhood where Donny and his street friends turn to small-time crime and working late nights in a bar to earn money. As if it weren’t bad enough that his mother barely provides for him, she takes from him the little money he makes on his own. “My mother was like a ghetto IRS, always demanding a chunk of anything I managed to earn.” Betty has boyfriends who beat up on her kids, and yet she is consumed with keeping the losers around. She lies, manipulates, cheats and steals. The book is filled with ugly Betty moments, and yet underneath it all is the unexpected beauty of this resilient child hanging onto the tiniest hope that one day, he could be more.
Dempsey’s honesty in story and language really pulled me in. The boy’s clever and witty comebacks were brilliant! Words were an amazing weapon for him as a kid, and they continue to serve him well as an adult. I cried for him, laughed with him, sat at the edge of my seat rooting for him to make it through danger, and even in the quiet moments I just felt moved being there with him. I fell in love with his faithful dog who taught him more about loyalty and family than his own parents did. Dempsey offers such a clear, raw view of an abused and neglected child’s life. It gave me a new understanding and deeper compassion for kids like him. Even when I set the book down, it felt like Donny was in my life as his heartbreaks, his small joys and his strong spirit stayed with me.
I love being entertained by a book, I love absorbing new ideas from a book, but it’s rare to say I’ve really been changed by one. Having walked in Donald Dempsey’s shoes in this 436 page journey, I am forever changed by the experience.
I have a stack of books on my nightstand that I’d planned to read before Betty’s Child
but when the book showed up in the mail, I was so curious about it, I read a few pages. And then I read a few more, and a few more, until I was absolutely hooked. I felt like all my other books could wait, but this one could not. Once I was introduced to twelve-year-old Donny, I had to stay with him and hear his story. It’s a powerful story in itself, but then add to that an incredibly gifted storyteller and writer, and you have an unforgettable book.
THE LINKSGet it on Amazon!Find it on Goodreads
THE REVIEWERCandi Sary, author of
Black Crow White Lie, has made the finals in several writing competitions, including the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in coastal Southern California with her husband (while her 2 kids are off at college), and can often be found surfing the waters of Newport Beach. You can find her at www.candisary.com
Title: Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long IslandAuthor:
Regina Calcaterra Publisher:
William Morrow Paperbacks (August 2013)Length:
320 pages Reviewer:
Yvonne LiebleinTHE RUNDOWN
While many people flip (and now scroll) right to Chapter One, I’ve always been too curious about what an author’s chosen to share before a story unfolds to skip the prologue. Never have I been more grateful for that curiosity than when reading Regina Calcaterra’s Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island.
This memoir prologue is a lofty one – literally describing the once-homeless author flying above Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Long Island as one of the leaders charged with helping it recover. Beginning with this full-circle flash forward was a beacon for me as I read the often gut-wrenching chapters that followed. "For years, Suffolk County transported me back to the pain and darkness my four siblings and I endured throughout our fatherless childhoods with a profoundly troubled mother. Now, as I examined it from the sky, my emotions swelled with a love for this place – how the experiences of growing up here made me who I am. Hovering above as a leader in the aftermath of Sandy struck me deeply. Aside from the love I shared with my siblings, this county was our only sense of home – a place that did its best to protect us from the unpredictable. I never could have imagined that one day I’d be called on to return the same security.”Prologue passages like this one showed that the child who endured horrendous situations had not only survived but also flourished, using her experiences to make a difference in the lives of others.
Calcaterra’s words from the birds-eye view of her childhood home were more than just an indicator of the gratitude-infused perspective she’d use to frame her memoir. The resilience she conveyed would buoy me through the often cringe-worthy, up-close and personal look at Calcaterra’s childhood years when she ricocheted between foster homes, being homeless and living with a mother she calls “profoundly troubled.”
'Living with' would be better described as 'surviving with' since Calcaterra and her siblings were either being abused by their mentally ill mother who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol or being forced to fend for themselves when she’d abandon them, sometimes for weeks at a time.
As a present-tense narrator, Calcaterra’s voice is magnetic, telling a story so visual and evoking emotions so visceral that the reader is transformed into a real-time eavesdropper. She depicts the landscape of her childhood with fierce honesty–shoplifting, bruise hiding, vinegar drinking/pill-popping to assuage hunger, cardboard-box sleeping and the emotional walls she put up and tore down to survive.
Calcaterra believes her accomplishments are anchored in the power of family, the one she was born into and the one created by the community. She writes about how the system that sometimes betrayed her also provided the teachers, librarians and other beacons who lighted stretches of her path with encouragement and gave her glimpses of the life she could create for herself -- from becoming emancipated at age 14 in an effort to keep her family together to navigating her way to a college education to tracking down the identity of her birth father.
An ardent admirer of Amelia Earhart, Calcaterra writes, “Amelia was brave and courageous. She didn’t let others limit her dreams, and she never took no for an answer. Amelia Earhart made her own rules,” and “When I’m searching for a solution or scared at night, I’ve begun to ask myself: What would Amelia do? The answer always makes me feel braver.”
Reading these passages about her heroine brought me back to the image of Calcaterra flying high above her childhood home as she assessed the widespread hurricane devastation below . . . a soon-to-be-published author whose story will allow others to feel braver when they ask themselves, What would Regina do? THE RECOMMENDATION
In a word? Riveting. Be prepared to clear the decks when you start reading because you won’t want to stop until you’re done.
I met Regina this spring soon after she’d received the Etched in Sand
galley, and it was thrilling to see her hold it in her hands, poised to share the story she’d kept hidden for so long with the world where its ripples could inspire and help others.
In the short time since Etched in Sand
was released earlier this month, Regina’s work has received widespread praise from both readers and the media including numerous glowing reviews, an Inside Edition
segment and a brilliant blurb in People
magazine. As I’m writing this, it is #1 on Amazon in the Siblings and Relationships category.
See for yourself what the buzz is about. Etched in Sand
isn’t just a book you’ll read. It’s a story that will change the way you see the world and yourself. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Regina M. Calcaterra, Executive Director at NYS Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, is an attorney who was serving as Suffolk’s Chief Deputy County Executive (the first woman to hold that post) when appointed Executive Director at NYS Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo after Hurricane Sandy. The former partner at Barrack, Rodos & Bacine is a graduate of Centereach High School, State University of New York at New Paltz and Seton Hall Law School. Regina serves as a proud board member of You Gotta Believe, an organization that works to get older foster children adopted into permanent “forever” homes. She lives on Long Island’s North Fork. LINKS Visit the author’s website
Buy Etched in Sand
Watch the book trailer
See Regina Calcaterra on Inside Edition
Learn more about You Gotta BelieveABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yvonne Lieblein writes poetry and fiction from her seaside village home in Greenport, NY. She’s written a novel with a musical soundtrack, The Wheelhouse Café, and is co-creator of the BOOKPROJECT, a novel night out where book lovers meet. Yvonne also brings two decades worth of high-octane experiences as an entrepreneur to her work as a catalyst, compass and champion who supports people as they define and achieve success on their own terms. Visit her at yvonnelieblein.com.
--EDITOR: Karen KoczwaraCOVER DESIGN: Thom Clark
PUBLISHER: Amazon and CreatespaceTHE RUNDOWNPieces of Sky
is Noelle Cablay’s new memoir. Chapters alternate between her story of childhood abuse and neglect, and her adult therapy sessions where she ultimately begins to heal. In one of the first sessions, the therapist asks, “How was your life hell, Noelle?” She answers with a story. She is four years old, standing at the front door with her screaming, pregnant mother while her father begs to come in from a storm. The scene is chaotic with sounds of thunder and rain, her father pounding on the door, her mother yelling, and the children crying. Confused and scared, Noelle manages to open the door for her father at one point, only to have her mother slam it on his arm. He eventually gives up, and his departure marks the night her father leaves her life.
More intense stories follow, bringing to life Carolyn, Noelle’s narcissistic, uncaring mother. She uses welfare money on singing lessons instead of food, she allows her new husband to abuse her daughter because she doesn’t want to lose him, and she basically treats her daughter with the cold, manipulative behaviors of a mentally unstable woman. Despite it all, Noelle is a survivor, finding ways to cope in her troubled home.
Noelle eventually finds a sense of safety and love in church. Each Sunday, she escapes from her home life: “I closed my eyes and sang with all my heart, because when I sang the world I knew drifted far away and I was free. I sang until there was nothing between me and Hope.” She develops a relationship with God, a spiritual father, and it fills a huge gap in her life left by her inadequate mother and father. She recounts several powerful occasions when she prays for guidance and help, and her prayers are answered. In fact, it is a most desperate prayer that brings the therapist into her life. Through their profound sessions, her story becomes one of healing, and one that gives this memoir its hopeful conclusion.
In the book, Noelle Cablay bravely opens up and shares her gritty history. It’s difficult to critique the writing and editing as flaws can be overlooked while immersed in this moving memoir. The power is in the story and Cablay is an admirable storyteller. Her scenes are vivid and alive. She gives readers an intimate look into her life, and an honest view of her heart. There is often a poetic quality to her writing, as when she describes going to kindergarten: “We would finger paint and I’d make blue-skied dreams with dripping sun drops, or there was story time where the teacher read with passion, and every word was alive with meaning, and life had a different hue for a brief moment.” Conditions at home are ugly, yet she still manages to find beautiful moments in her life. This is the kind of optimism that gives Cablay’s sad memoir its uplifting spirit.
A good book is one you can’t stop thinking about. Pieces of Sky
has been on my mind ever since I finished it, and I can’t imagine ever forgetting Noelle Cablay’s story.
Originally, I was torn about the rating. The heart of the book deserves 5 stars, but I was going to rate the writing with 4 out of 5 stars. I had the opportunity to let Noelle know about some of the writing and format issues I noticed, and she was extremely grateful for the feedback. She ended up going back with her editor and fixing quite a bit. Since it's a self published book, she was able to make the necessary changes. For all that effort, and of course the improved writing, I think the book overall now deserves 5 stars.
Buy it on AmazonLike Author’s Facebook page
Visit Noelle's website
THE REVIEWERCandi Sary, author of Black Crow White Lie, has made the finals in several writing competitions, including the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in coastal Southern California with her husband (while her 2 kids are off at college), and can often be found surfing the waters of Newport Beach. You can find her at www.candisary.com.
review by Katie French
Every so often a book comes along that really speaks to you, gets you at a gut level that most books cannot. The wonderful thing about Ketchup is a Vegetable by Robin O'Bryant is that not only did this book really “get me”, but it made me snicker non-stop for over two hundred pages. This memoir focuses on Robin and her misadventures as a mother and wife. Let the hilarity ensue.
In one scene Robin recounts the road trip from Hell. With three daughters ages five and under, one an infant, Robin's family sets off on a five hour drive. Below is a short excerpt of the story that left me rolling. “At this point, my dearly beloved was standing on the side of the road, shirtless, Emma was wearing nothing but a pull-up and a frown, and I had wiped the Big Berthas out once again to feed Sadie. I could feel a great red neck joke brewing, but he (her husband) doesn't normally enjoy my humor in times of crisis, so I kept my mouth shut.”
Any mom who's taken a road trip knows that the worst events possible can and do happen. Robin's trip made me have flashbacks of a family Florida road trip where my husband projectile vomited into a beef jerky container. Nothing's more hilarious than car trips and regurgitation.
Robin's humor is so effortless and real I found myself envious at many points. Humor is an advanced skill and many authors try and fail. This book is hilarious without being over the top. At one point she discusses killing flies that had swarmed on her windowsill. “I grabbed a bottle of air freshener and took my stand at the window in very much the same way Scarlett O'Hara faced those Yanks, I'm sure. I sprayed furiously while I held my breath and watched as a measly four flies met their Maker. This was pathetic. Scarlett would be so ashamed.”
The best part of O'Bryant's book is that she makes it okay to make mistakes as a mother. We all put so much pressure on ourselves. We all want to be Joan Clever mixed with Angelina Jolie, but we can't. O'Bryant helps mothers everywhere commiserate, laugh at themselves and learn to love the mother you are, not the mother you should be.
Bottom line, mothers, buy this book, make sure all sharp objects are safely stowed, lock yourself in the bathroom and enjoy.
You can find Robin O'Bryant on her blog.
You can find the book here. If you enjoyed this review you can follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook or Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter. You can also follow Katie French on Facebook, Twitter and on her website.
TITLE: Praise of Motherhood
AUTHOR: Phil Jourdan
PUBLISHER: Zer0 Books (imprint of John Hunt Publishing)
THE RUNDOWN Praise of Motherhood
is a memoir about the life and death of Phil Jourdan’s mother, who stood by him throughout his tumultuous childhood. As much as the book is about his mother, it is about him: the hallucinations and violent urges that hospitalized him and defined his youth. To me, the book is a psychological study. On the one hand, we have a well-read, analytical narrator who seems to have his wits about him. On the other hand, we have a psychotic young man who simultaneously hates and loves his mother. The reader must ask, how can these two people be the same?
There is a self-indulgent quality to the prose in Praise of Motherhood
that is so honest in its presentation that I, the reader, assumed the same tendencies. I read the book at a frenzied pace and had to fight to put it down. The book is unusual and intoxicating, with an intentional lack of attention to time or reality. The narrator, Phil Jourdan, is so unreliable in his storytelling that I wanted to label it a novel, not a memoir. And yet, it read unlike any novel or memoir I have ever read. Praise of Motherhood
lacks the ABC plotline that defines mainstream books. Other than some tangents that were slightly longer than necessary, the lack of direction in Praise of Motherhood
didn’t slow me down. I would describe the contents of the book as philosophy, not story. Phil Jourdan is well-read, citing Freud, Oedipus, Kafka and other great minds, challenging their thoughts and applying his own. His writing is introspective and honest and there are more than a few gems sprinkled throughout the text. With his spellbinding stream-of-thought narrative, which revolves around the life and death of his mother, Phil manages to gain my respect despite the fact that I acknowledge his experiences as unreliable at best.
Readers who enjoyed The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath will eat up Phil Jourdan’s book. It is not a light read, but it is a quick one. Something that you will devour in a short period of time and digest for years to come. If you are looking for a new perspective, a dark twist on reality, pick up Phil Jourdan’s book. Additionally, anyone with a close friend or family member who is suffering from mental trauma or psychosis may gain some understanding of their loved one’s predicament by reading Praise of Motherhood
. There are some mature moments which may not be suitable for a younger audience.
Find Phil on Facebook
Visit Phil's blog, SlothropIf you enjoyed this review, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Name: Tales From Tavanti: An American Woman’s Mid-Life Adventures In Italy
Author: Rebecca Bricker
When her only son left for college, Rebecca Bricker went out the door after him. She sold her home, sold most of her possessions and bought a ticket to Italy. Tales From Tavanti
is the memoirs of a single, middle-aged woman who throws caution to the wind and follows her dream.
While is admirable that Ms. Bricker moved to Italy where she knew no one, rented an apartment on Via Tavanti street in Florence, I would classify this work of memoirs as a diary, not a novel.
Having no real purpose except to experience Italy, meet a few men, and write a book about her adventures, Tales From Tavanti
has far too many characters and way too many places for a reader to find any real connection.
As in any book, non-fiction or fiction, the reader will always judge the characters. We don’t like the protagonist because he’s mean or unfeeling, or we feel deeply connected to a caring person who is abused. When the main character is you, then you have just opened yourself up to be judged. This is a chance the writer takes.
As a mother and a daughter of aging parents, I found it difficult to identify with Ms. Bricker. With her only son leaving the nest for his first year in college, a mother rapidly declining with Alzheimer’s disease, and father having a difficult time making decisions, it seemed untimely to pick up and leave the country for a year.
Even more disturbing was Ms. Bricker’s affair with a good-looking, charming Italian. The drama weaved in and out of the story reading more like a teenager looking for love in all the wrong places than an experienced, middle-aged woman.
Yet another issue with this book is honesty. I didn’t ‘feel’ gut-level honesty. If honesty isn’t a writer’s sixth sense, the work is not believable. I wanted to identify with the pain of saying good-bye to a home of some 20 years, the fear of leaving a son, still a teenager who is leaving home for the first time, the pain of watching the slow death of a parent with Alzheimer’s. Overall, the adventure seemed an escape from the hardships each of us face somewhere in our lifetime. In reality, however, there is no real escape.
Ms. Bricker’s credentials states she is a freelance writer and has written for People’s Magazine. She has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, but for what reason is not stated.
I did not give Tales From Tavanti
a rating as I do not feel it is a novel, but a diary Ms. Bricker’s friends and family would enjoy.Visit Rebecca's websiteIf you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.