Posted in memoir, memories of houses, writers

“I” is for Intense: Four More Book Reviews

Here we go with more book reviews. These are intense reads and not intended for those easily offended by real life.



After Perfect, a Daughter’s Memoir, Christina McDowell, 2015.

Think some people have it all? Well, having it all can change. And you never know what is going on behind closed doors. McDowell is the middle child of three daughters growing up in affluence, enjoying luxurious vacations, flying in Daddy’s private plane and receiving gobs of affection. But family life comes crashing down. Christina’s father, Tom Prousalis is indicted for fraud and sent to prison after a plea deal. The worst part of Christina’s story is the continuing betrayal by her father who uses his own daughter for financial gain and ruins her credit. Christina moves to California and after financial tumbles and problems, goes from Beverly Hills to scrappy neighborhoods and low paying jobs. Even after her father is out of prison, he continues to lie to his daughter. She ends up with a hundred thousand dollar debt added to her résumé.

But! This is a story of triumph. She perseveres and emerges to tell the tale.

Loved McDowell’s story-telling ability and it was a 5 star page-turner for me. I was mad and frustrated by her dad’s shenanigans throughout the story. Another takeaway from After Perfect was how cheap some Hollywood stars can be-I.E they DON’T tip well. If you want to know what is going on in the lives of the rich and famous, work for them!


Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, Dorothy Allison, 1995.

      “…if we are not beautiful to each other, we cannot know beauty in any form.”- Dorothy Allison.

If you read Bastard Out of South Carolina, you’re familiar with Allison’s impeccable writing. Two or Three Things is a small book, 94 pages of text. It’s tough to read because people just shouldn’t do bad things to children. White, poor, Southern, and country is about as glamorous as a junkyard mutt. Allison writes, “ My uncles went to jail like other boys go to high school.” There is no heartwarming charm in incest and violence, nor is there comfort in the brutal realization that one is gay, lustful, loving and aggressive. Allison realizes she is not like the others and is attracted to women, long before the term “gay” became chic or even easy to say.

I am captivated by Allison’s writing skills. No minced words, nothing overdone, fantastic dialogue and timing-it’s all right there. Yet, she manages to teach and give the reader moments of tenderness. How do children ever get through trauma? Over and over I ask myself the question. Most great writers and artists have struggles.

Reading One or Two Things is helping me with my writing –when instructors tell you to be concise, Allison’s style is a perfect example. Cheers!



 Education of a Felon, Edward Bunker, 2011

Bunker is a testimony to talent born out of delinquency and time spent in prison. This is the searing truism of writing what you know.

His is a life on the streets except for a time when he is housed by an aunt, and later, by the wealthy, frustrated Louise Wallis, wife of mogul producer, Hal Wallis. He wants to do right but lack of a stable family home, or some genetic hot-bloodedness makes him a chronic runaway by age ten. “I was a habitual wanderer by then.” Then he starts getting into trouble.

Bunker’s story is straight up Southern California-Hollywood history, bedecked with palm trees, glamour, fancy cars, wannabes, liquor, drugs, and prostitutes. Bunker is a man’s man. He writes descriptively and with edge-of-your-seat skill. His nuances are incredible.

His early childhood is the pits. He listens to loud fights between his parents and soon they are divorced.  He lives in a run of foster homes and military school where he is rebellious and is beaten up often-a theme that follows Bunker’s life like a shadow. It’s sad. It’s overwhelming. It’s brutal.

The reader finds herself wanting him to succeed, to be loved and cherished. It happens, but not until years in prison line his face and memories of San Quentin fracture part of his spirit.  There is a happy ending. Bunker is released in 1975 and emerges as an iconic writer.  He marries and has a son. Absolutely loved it. What a talent.

Bunker passed away in 2005. His book No Beast So Fierce is based on his life.


It Was Me All Along, a memoir, Andie Mitchell, 2015.

I love her from the first page. I feel all her anxieties because I was a nervous child. Any emotional eater will relate to Mitchell’s life story. “Being different,” “struggling to fit in” and other phrases are almost cliché among memoir writers. If food is love then those of us who crave love will never be at peace. Unless we fight for positive change, or die trying, one of life’s greatest pleasures can be a cruel joke.

Creative types, artists, and musicians are often cast from the mold that implies an almost desperate sense of “otherness.” Empaths such as Mitchell feel everything. She writes, “In an ideal world, a child learns eating as an intuitive practice.” Mitchell is a child who cannot stop craving food. Her mother works constantly and Mitchell hates her absences. Her father is a highly creative individual who loses his job and is reduced to screaming fits of anger and depression. Mitchell, like most children, is the absorbent observer of adult behavior. She placates herself by eating food and then has to suffer from rejections. “No fatties.” Life is mean. People are consistently obsessed with image and size.

Mitchell has an uncanny ability to let the reader in on her life and shares how she fought to become a balanced person while working in film production. I don’t want to be a spoiler…it has a happy ending.

I laughed and cried through It Was Me All Along. Great job, Andie!

Those of you who have never had food issues or weight problems, well…to put it politely…. go to hell. Seriously though, I hope you never have to suffer. This book is timely since Oprah Winfrey announced she is doing the Weight Watchers thing. Is it all about the money or are we doomed to forever be spotlighted by our skin, race, gender, and body size?

Journal prompt: Read a memoir. Write a review. Talk about why you chose this particular memoir and how you relate to the writer. If you aren’t interested in memoir or autobiography, write about what interests you.

Posted in memoir, memories of houses, writers

Reading While Writing

MLK day copy.jpg for blog

Happy Martin Luther King day! I hope you all are well and taking some time to honor one our greatest American leaders.

Read any good books lately? I’m always reading even with a left eye that needs fixing. Here are a few of my recent favorite reads:

  •   Fire Shut up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow

Fantastic. Piercing. A timely memoir of male African-American lives  and family dynamics. Starts with newsman author planning to kill a haunting memory with a gun.  A relative molested him in childhood.  This is a book about personal accomplishment with an emotional resolution of trauma.  Blow, a Louisiana native reveals the torment of his childhood and his life journey to success.

He emerges from being “different” and grapples with his feelings and sensitivities.   He  achieves in sports, academics,  and then as a graphic producer for the Times. He’s tenacious. One reviewer calls it “electric.” I agree. Loved the writing style. I had no idea how vicious hazing is in colleges. After reading his book I believe the barbaric practice should be banned.

  • The Mockingbird Next Door Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

Loved it! Writer granted interviews and was able to live next door to feisty, often self-deprecating, outrageously private Harper Lee. Just as fascinating is  her charismatic, focused sister, lawyer Alice Finch Lee. I just fell head over heels with Monroeville, Alabama (you can take Mockingbird tours there) and with Alice in the book. What a woman.

Mills, the author, was on leave from the Chicago Tribune due to complications with lupus. Mills used her talents to put together a real story of one of the most inspirational writers of our time. If you’re intrigued by Southern writers and culture, treat yourself to a most juicy book. Meet the real Harper Lee also known as “Nelle” by those close to her. She could be cantankerous and detested getting dressed up for functions.

Some claim the book was unauthorized. The permission issue hinges on two letters to Mills, one by Nelle and one by her sister Alice.  But what would I know? Read it for yourself. What do you think? I know the elderly, or at least I know mine. They don’t spend hours together, take road trips, or watch movies with just anyone.Harper Lee divided her residences between small town Alabama and New York City. Mills drives Lee up to New York City in her secondhand car.

Back to the elderly –they don’t take you to the hospital if they don’t like you. One has to be accepted into their lives by earning their trust. The Mockingbird Next Door is full of family history and friendships (Truman Capote) at its finest with all the inside details.  Congrats, Marja! Let the critics be jealous-I believe you.

I adore Southern writers (Arna Bontemps, Frank Yerby, Ernest J. Gaines, Alice Walker for example), and of course, Harper Lee with To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t think life would be the same without Harper Lee’s classic contribution to writing, and subsequently, to film and theater.

  • Handling the Truth  On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart. I’m using this practical yet provocative book as a guide along with some others that I’ll talk about later on.  Each page is marked and underlined in my copy. My list of to-be-read books is growing because of all the memoirs cited in Handling the Truth. The author has written five memoirs and is a National Book Award finalist. If you’re writing a memoir or just enjoy writing tips, read or buy the book.

color design and book copy

Keep writing, keep journaling and let the creative juices flow!

Journal prompt: Write about what you are reading. What style appeals to you?