My Father's Suitcase

My Father’s Suitcase: A story of family secrets, abuse and betrayal – an

Reviewed by Lily Andrews

My Father’s Suitcase” is a heartfelt memoir that chronicles author Mary Garden’s struggle with sibling abuse, an understudied and rarely spoken kind of domestic violence.  Purchase Here.

Garden’s life altered radically when her younger sister, Anna, began to physically abuse her during their childhood. Her reaction to this was one of fury and terror at what the sibling, who suffered from mental illness, might do to her next. Garden was always under the impression that her turbulent family life had a significant part in the disintegration of her connection with her sister since she had a violent father and a melancholy mother who was constantly running away from a past she could never bring herself to disclose to her spouse. Garden’s parents made her feel constantly alone by publicly supporting Anna’s actions and holding her responsible for all of her issues.

Her rivalry with her sister did not fade quickly; rather, it intensified throughout adulthood, leaving her deeply wounded and with a warped perspective on life. Garden was especially horrified to hear that her sister had embarked on a project that she believed to be an extension of her abuse. Her brother Robert and other family members were aware of the situation but opted not to notify her. This served as the last blow to her hopes of ending Anna’s pervasive hatred and rekindled her urge to exact reckoning—something she had long resisted doing.

The most prevalent type of domestic abuse today is the subject of this real, thoroughly researched story. Through it, the author exposes the behaviors and potential consequences experienced by those who attempt to conceal and repress their stress. This is the ideal book for people who have controlling or abusive siblings because it provides guidance on self-rescue and clarifies what many perceive to be typical sibling conflict. When sibling violence is ignored and persists in the lives of many individuals, society bears a heavy price.

My Father’s Suitcase” effectively illustrates the need to close the knowledge gap that currently exists on sibling abuse. “My Father’s Suitcase” is highly recommended.


Travels and Tribulations

Travels and Tribulations by Tyrel Nelson

Reviewed by Lily Andrews

An emotional and physical journey, “Travels and Tribulations” is a compulsively readable memoir written by Tyrel Nelson. During the bleak time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tyrel lost his mother whom he had shared a close relationship with, to a kidney disease and thereafter, his job.  Purchase Here.

It was a depressing moment for him pushing him into persistent despondency and it was during this time that he began making a recollection of significant experiences in his life going back from 2008 to 2020 including the people and places that he got a chance to meet and see respectively. This somehow provided a much-needed catharsis for him, relieving him from the agony and grief that hung around him. It was through sorting various compilations that he had written over the years that he penned these captivating vignettes that he shares with us today.

With a unique sense of rare immediacy and keen depth, the author walks us through the memories of his life, his experiences, and his relationships and even goes ahead to share the sorrow that engulfed him during the pandemic period. Part travelogue and part self-reflection odyssey, “Travel and Tribulations” takes us across the physical excursions and super-famous Carnivals in Ecuador, the lowlands in Guatemala, the countryside of Mexico, and back to Minnesota in the United States. Throughout, Tyrel’s voice shines with raw honesty and candidness, not holding anything back, leading us to moments of soul-searching during the reading.

He credits his mother for laying the groundwork and sparking the desire in him to see the world. This is after traveling with her to her homeland, the Philippines for a two-week trip. He does not stop there but goes ahead to celebrate both his parents for instilling in him the values of resilience, compassion, selflessness, and living in the moment from an early age. Across, the author’s writing and travel style are equally affable invoking in his exposition, an inviting feeling of shared thoughts and experiences, both poignant and impactful. “Travels and Tribulations” by Tyrel Nelson is an indelible biography and one that marks the arrival of a quintessential voice in biography writing.


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The Butterfly Cage

The Butterfly Cage by Rachel Zemach

Book Reviewed by Lily Andrews

The Butterfly Cage” is a brilliant and thoughtful memoir written by Rachel Zemach, a deaf educator, writer, and activist. Here, Author Zemach recounts her remarkable navigation through the intricacies of teaching while Deaf in a California public school. It is a crucial and sometimes disquieting panorama of the patchiness of deaf education in public schools offering necessary advice for educators and families alike.  Purchase Here.

She fuses these experiences with her own heartfelt story of sudden deafness at the age of ten, and her ensuing and rather challenging journey toward a deaf identity and taking up a teaching role. With a striking foreword, the text does not tally in its progress but carefully details what it is like as a deaf teacher to strive for her pupils in a system that does not understand their needs and identities and which may end up damaging their potential and psychological well-being.

Her inspiring role in a deaf public school offers a role model that parents wish for their children in a school setting but whom deaf students rarely get in their classrooms. Zemach further details her struggles with the administration, staff, and aides who try to cripple teachers’ efforts at every turn, a scene all too frequent in mainstream schools.

The Butterfly Cage” is one of those indelible memoirs that you finish reading and feel a little like you have lost an old friend. Readers will learn from the true stories of individual students told in an artful and affecting manner, what the deepest struggles of deaf and hard-of-hearing students are, and why the majority of these students in the country may end up losing their birthright due to a broken system that urgently needs restructuring. Zemach is unflinchingly honest and accomplishes much in this appealing and intelligent tapestry by rallying the society behind her to help these vulnerable group attain their budding capabilities.

That’s what places the book squarely among the best memoirs written out there. Her writing passion has adroitly amplified a thousandfold in the quiet world of the deaf. Her generosity of spirit is bound to encompass every reader who puts their hands on this hard-to-put-down memoir.

Indeed, “The Butterfly Cage” by Rachel Zemach makes a major contribution to our understanding of deafness, the challenges deaf students meet, and a call to legislators and educators alike in creating a conducive environment for them to learn in public schools. It is an oeuvre from a quintessential voice in America.


We Are All Made of Scars

We Are All Made of Scars by Christopher Morris

Book Reviewed by Lily Andrews

Christopher Morris’s new memoir “We Are All Made of Scars” rivets with arresting echoes of his life’s moving and highly volatile episodes while at a tender age in the hands of a dipsomaniac mother.  Purchase Here.

This book offers a gripping prologue that aptly introduces the reader to a roller coaster of childhood memories and events that foretell a teenager’s story in dire need of survival. Chris’ life seemed like a pushover and his dreams were an afterthought after finding himself surrounded by nurses and doctors who couldn’t stop taking tests on him to bail him out of dejection that set him up as a pledged suicidal kid.  A few days earlier, the frustrating lifestyle exhibited by his mother was getting the best of him as efforts to acquire her attention became futile. She was always sunk on her rocking chair while ceaselessly imbibing and smoking her lungs out without a care in the world.

Her long calls meant that Chris would never get a chance to talk to his girlfriend and this was quickly breaking the swelling banks of his emotions. It is a sad affair to see him give a five-minute ultimatum to his mother if she didn’t drop her long call to which he would openly harm himself if ignored further.  An unforeseen twist into Chris’s daily routine would however beautifully have him gasp in amazement as his oblivious mother showed up to pick him up from school wearing a rather different outfit- a super concerned mum, only to prove otherwise when the mother mentioned the word, doctor.

This magnificent memoir carries a unique tone and style which ably captures a reader’s emotions and feelings from the beginning to the end. The author’s experience is one to sympathize with as he narrates the devastating nature of being a supposed psychic patient due to a foolish decision that left him broken and unstable. Readers may however find themselves shedding a tear due to the author’s family’s horrific lifestyle that brims with gloom and despondency but will quickly jump back to their realities and deep reflection on experienced situations that may have occurred through unsound planning, emotional breakdown, and desire to prove a point.

In conclusion, Christopher Morris’s new memoir “We Are All Made of Scars” is a perfect family read whose voice and moral lessons will echo for years to come. Readers are bound to incalculably draw strength and hope from this new magnum opus, which undoubtedly stands out as one of the most real and inspirational stories ever written.



Midpoint: A Memoir by Patricia Angeles

Book Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

In Midpoint: A Memoir, author Patricia Angeles reveals many of the important moments in her life that helped shape the person she has become. The stories contained in this memoir help paint the picture of a woman growing up in the modern world. One of the reminders found throughout the book is how small the world has become and that there are more ways in which people are alike than different.  Purchase Here.

Despite growing up in Manila, the majority of the tales from Patricia’s childhood could just as easily have been set somewhere in the United States. The stories contained within Midpoint: A Memoir mostly focus on growing up and finding your place in the world. The author makes it clear that while the book is meant to be an enjoyable read for anyone who picks it up, the audience at the forefront of her mind is her daughters. The stories aim to show that anything is possible while also demonstrating that things are not always easy and that everyone makes mistakes.

The snippets of Patricia’s life vary in tone. However, she carries a level of humor throughout the book. Refreshingly, she does not shy away from admitting to not being perfect, which is not always the case with autobiographies. Rather than ignore her mistakes, she highlights them and takes us through where she went wrong with the invaluable tool of hindsight. Throughout Midpoint: A Memoir, Patricia carries a feeling of good cheer. Whether writing about a funny story from her youth, or a trying time that left her shaken, it is clear that she realizes it all led her to the life she has now, which she wouldn’t trade for anything.

While almost anyone can find relatable material in many stories throughout this memoir, there are still moments when the unique challenges faced by an immigrant and a minority remind us that this small world we live in can be experienced very differently depending on your background. Midpoint: A Memoir is an easy read full of the short stories that make up a life. Patricia Angeles has a thoughtful and elegant way of writing that enables the reader to immerse themselves in her life, one tale at a time.



Against the Current

Against the Current in the Silent Service by R.W. Herman

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Against the Current in the Silent Service is a gripping memoir by R.W. Herman about navigating the uncharted waters of life. Through the pages of the book, the author takes a deep dive into his personal life while in the service of the Navy and his winding road of self-discovery.  Purchase Here.

While this memoir was written as a continuation of the author’s debut book, The Unopened Letter, it is well-rounded enough to stand as an independent read. This first book details the author’s experiences in the Navy during the Vietnam War Era, offering a peek behind the curtain of history from a uniquely personal perspective. Readers already familiar with the author’s life will finally know the answer to what happened next and why the author is called Commander. Those freshly introduced to R.W. Herman’s writing will discover an alluring and thrilling personal universe.

After building a reputation as an exceptional sailor (with an intriguing rebellious streak) R.W. Herman aims to become a commissioned officer. However, career advancement lies at the end of a winding road sprinkled with obstacles. To succeed, Herman must navigate the troubled waters of the system, inner struggles, and family life. At one point – which turns out to be a stepping stone for his dream future – the author is thrown into the foreign universe of submarine service.

Herman’s life story of trials and tribulations is an inspiring illustration of how hidden currents may guide our lives to the shores that we recognize as home. Also, his drive and ingenuity in thriving in adverse conditions keep the reader glued to the pages of his life. What is more, Herman skillfully decodes hostile conditions and uses the data and his knowledge as a world-building kit.

Readers might expect the setting for Against the Current in the Silent Service to be within rigid Navy and Marines confines. However, that is not the case. The story expands from within these systems touching on some of the great literary themes of love, loss, self-discovery, and freedom. The author interprets freedom as self-acceptance and allowing oneself the liberty to pursue the realization of a future self and a future us.

What is truly impressive about the read is the multiple levels of complexity that embrace the core story. The systematic exploration of social dynamics stands out as particularly relevant. Herman captures the fragile and subtle couple dynamics as two individuals jointly venture into a shared future. However, he also peers into the cracks of a seemingly rigid and stern system to uncover shifting and often unpredictable dynamics driven by a complex mixture of self-interest, duty, preservation, and sacrifice.

Against the Current in the Silent Service is an effortless read that can easily entrap readers into its flawless web of writing. While Herman displays an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Navy and communication systems, his life story is not weighed down by technicalities. All that remains is to witness a most captivating life unfold in the pages of this book.

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism by Joshua Joseph

Reviewed by Ray Palen

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – The Dark Knight
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That quote from filmmaker Christopher Nolan resonated with me as I read this complex and extremely satisfying novel from Joshua S Joseph. The protagonist in this, a young Indian man with the unique name of Dak Ackerthefifth — a name blamed on the same slip of the entry pen used on Ellis Island while in-taking droves of new American citizens to our country.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM is more of a spiritual journey than a work of fiction and the reader is privileged to go along for the ride. Throughout Dak’s life he seeks to understand the precept of what it means to be a hero. We understand that for one to be a hero you must pick a side — hero or villain — but we also learn that life is not that black and white and often times it is not clear as to which side you are on. The story begins with the death of his parents, Richard and Rudy. Our narrator indicates that the death of parents is the way every good hero story starts — but be mindful, this is no Disney tale.

Richard Ackerthefifth was a ballpoint pen magnate who allegedly died during a business trip to the Congo — or so Dak’s mother told him. Rudy was left to raise 8-year-old Dak and his younger sister, Emily. Regrettably, or in keeping with the hero plan, Rudy passes away when Dak is 14. Her death is blamed solely on Crazy Uncle Ji. He was not an actual ‘Uncle’, but was given that honorific title by their mother. Shortly after Rudy was diagnosed with cancer, Crazy Uncle Ji gave her a cocktail of various supplements which initially helped her but then quickly pushed her into a physical nosedive that she never recovered from.

Now, young Dak is sent to Boarding School while Emily is placed into foster care. It is while attending the Ellsworth School that Dak had his first taste of heroism. Initially, Dak thought this came from the altercation he got into with another student over the death of one of their classmates. Actually, his heroic act took place on a class ski trip. A smaller classmate, Pard, was partnered with Dak on the trip and he slipped from the chairlift while it was climbing up the mountain. Dak grabbed Pard and held on until it was safe to let go, essentially saving Pard’s life.

The next chapter in Dak’s journey involved his moving in with his Aunt Rhoda once he was ‘done’ with Boarding School. She lived in Manhattan, which ended up being the ideal testing ground for Dak’s theories of heroism. The trouble was that Aunt Rhoda was a ‘hideous human being’ who was taking care of Dak more for the benefits she received from the Foundation his father had left behind than out of any sense of familial responsibility. At one point, his sister Emily comes to stay for a short visit. Emily implores her brother not to let her be taken back to foster care again, an experience that has included a number of different families each ending with her being sent back into the system. Unfortunately, Dak is not old enough yet to make such a decision and his Aunt Rhoda explains that foster care is what Emily needs as she suffers from various mental issues that require constant supervision.

As Dak is experiencing the world as a young man he continues to question everything and put all his experiences through various philosophical and ethical filters. He ponders on the concept of Interaction versus Isolation. The philosopher John Paul Sartre stated ‘Hell is other people’. To feel Sartre’s Hell, one must feel isolation while being amongst other people and not feeling saved by any interaction with your fellow man. Dak gets his best opportunity to truly interact with human nature when he takes on his first job. He is hired to do odds and ends at a management office that handled various tenant buildings around the NYC area. His boss was a Jew, Mr. Frank, a fact that allowed Dak to further explore the differences between his own Roman Catholic upbringing and other religious precepts.

Eventually, Dak is utilized by Mr. Frank because he is not one of the ‘Jewish tribe’ to collect back rent from various tenants who are in arrears. It is here where he meets Esther, a young woman who play a pivotal role in Dak’s journey. In his initial meeting, where he is attempting to collect overdue rent, Esther gives Dak quite an earful. She was the tenant from hell and a professional problem for him to solve. Subsequent visits find Esther warming towards the unassuming Dak and she becomes a font of good stories and advice. For instance, she tells Dak how fortunate it is that both his parents died when he was young as he never had to experience taking care of them when they were older and physically/mentally wasting away. It is also with Esther that Dak has his first sexual experience.

Dak focuses on the concept of approval and recognizing that, as a physical being not in isolation, we are ever seeking out the approval of ourselves from other people. This leads him to his next serious interaction with another tenant named Lissa. He will have a physical relationship with her and also spend some time living with her as well. Dak looked at his time living with Lissa as a vacation and understood that even the most satisfying vacations had to eventually end. On the home front, Emily had now graduated from foster care and is taken in by Aunt Rhoda. The three of them are all at a point where they abhor the presence of one another and bounce around the home like solitary electrons failing to make contact with each other.

One day, Dak finds Aunt Rhoda unconscious on the floor of their apartment — a situation that Emily had not even noticed. He rides in the ambulance with her to the hospital. Even though everything is tried to save her, Aunt Rhoda eventually succumbs to her malady and passes away. While in the hospital, Dak ponders that idea that real heroes are practitioners of medicine. However, he cannot truly buy into this idea as so many of those in the medical field do not actually care about the people they are treating. It is not long after Rhoda’s passing that a face from the past returns, Uncle Ji. Ji now is able to speak to Dak, adult to adult, and explains that the facts behind each of his parents deaths were not what Dak had been led to believe. He also provides Dak with some information, a ‘gift’ as he refers to it, that he can use as political leverage against his employer, Mr. Frank. Unfortunately, that gift backfires and Dak is fired from the only job he ever had.

Dak rebounds into his next serious relationship, this time with Esther’s sister, Dina. Now unemployed, Dak moves in with Dina and it is there where he meets with my favorite character in the novel, Abe. Abe is Dina’s brother and he is an extraordinary thinker and debater of concepts, both religious and otherwise. His first interaction with Dak begins with a diatribe on the Jewish and Palestinian conflict and how that arose. Abe likes to hear himself talk and he also likes someone who will question and challenge him, which Dak provides for him. If you have ever seen the Richard Linklater film, Waking Life, in which pairs of characters converse philosophically with each other on a myriad of subjects, you will understand my feelings about the scenes between Dak and Abe. There are a few chapters involving the two of them together and it provides the best dialogue in the novel.

At one point in a Sushi restaurant, Dak, Dina, Abe and his lover Katie are chatting — or, more to the point, listening to Abe speak — when Dina finally calls him out for his cynical banter. She shares with Dak a quote from Tom Robbins that makes him think: ‘We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love’. On another occasion, Abe asks Dak how he would feel if he were able to shut society down. Unhook the world from their wireless devices and disconnect everyone from everything they utilize to get them through their lives. Dak indicates that this would finally make him a hero. It is at this point, towards the end of the story, where Abe provides Dak with just such an opportunity and it opens everything up all at once for Dak, finally providing him with answers he has spent his life searching for.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM was both and exhilarating and exhausting read as it provides so many various concepts that require the reader to disengage from our current culture and seek to find true meaning in our lives. It is a participatory novel requiring the reader to think and dive in deep along with our ‘hero’. Dak is the ideal figure to go on this journey and I was sorry for that ride to come to an end. I give much credit to author Joshua S Joseph, who refers to himself as an author, philosopher and consumer of shadows. He is definitely someone that would be interesting to chat with.

The Boy Refugee

The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin,

Reviewed by Danita Dyess

In The Boy Refugee: A Memoir from a Long-Forgotten War by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin, he chronicles the devastating effects of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Back then, Azimuddin, a Pakistani, was only eight years old. His detailed account of the civil unrest chronicles two years of emotional, economical, familial, and political upheaval. About 100,000 Prisoners of War were entangled in a never-ending battle between the Bangladeshis and their quest for independence and the Pakistanis who have assumed total control. Purchase Here.

Azimuddin had two older siblings – his sister, Maliha Apa and brother, Khusro Bhaijan. His mother, Ammi, was the daughter of an influential civil servant. Their spacious home was surrounded by a pond and trees filled with bananas, apples, and coconuts.

His father, Pappa, had been educated in India. Now he was a bishari, upper class group of society. Pappa worked as a plant manager for Adamjee Jute Mills, the world’s largest manufacturer of jute and cotton products. He oversaw the Bengali workers, the poor class residing in shantis. The two classes are about to erupt in a war. Why?

The boy that liked to play cricket, ride his bike, and pet his pigeon, Kabooter, explains. He says the history of the two factions began when the East and West Pakistan were separated by geography. When the British left, two countries formed – Muslims represented Pakistan (Bengalis) and Hindus represented India. Now the Pakistani army killed mill workers. So the mukti bahini murdered Pakistani officers and civilians.

So the story unfolds with Abdul, a loyal servant of Azimuddin’s family suddenly leaves. He had heard about the slaughtering of five Bengali men. Also, Mujibar Rahman was a political leader who won the election but was denied the presidency. The Awami League supported him and protested the conditions. Bengali workers vacated their jobs at the mill.

But this is just the beginning. Other accounts of civic unrest spread rapidly and foreshadowed ominous events. The People’s Party gained 81 parliamentary seats. Rallies and labor strikes were breaking out daily. While riding his bike from work, Pappa was confronted by angry Bengali workers; he started driving to protect himself from danger.

On December 3, 1971, loud sirens and blackouts alert the family of war. They flee for safety to find refuge with a German UN worker and in tent cities, the Kilo Camps.

The author acts as a journalist and teacher. As a reporter, he conveys the facts of the atrocity. But most importantly, he wants you to know that during challenging circumstances, the love of your family can help you summon the courage and sheer determination you never knew you had. You can change your mind and form friends that were enemies previously. Always act with compassion.

The cover picture of a boy sitting on a suitcase with travel-related drawings was apt. The use of foreign terms, e.g., Namack pore and sooji la halwa as well as the historical accounts transported me to faraway places.

The dialogue spoken between Pappa and Ammi showed the quiet power of a devoted mother. The conversation between Mr. Rauf and Mr. Huq were thought provoking. References to Kissinger and Nixon were insightful.

This work of nonfiction conveyed the gamut of human emotions – childlike joy, disappointment, confusion, fear, love, and hate.

The pace for the 160-page book was fast. Photographs of the family and his green suitcase made the story real. The maps illustrated the role of geography.

Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin is a board-certified gastro-intestinal surgeon who specializes in robotic surgery. He has practiced medicine for 20+ years and currently sees patients at Houston Colon and Rectal Surgery. He has written numerous research articles and surgical reference books. His hobby is calligraphy that includes verses from the Quran placed on tiles. His work appears at the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Art.

This memoir is Azimuddin’s first book. I would recommend The Boy Refugee to anyone who wants to be inspired and enjoys history and international politics.

The Secrets of Living a Fantastic Life

The Secrets of Living a Fantastic Life: Two Survivors Reveal the Thirteen Golden Pearls They Discovered by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka is a very inspirational and thought-provoking book written by two people who lived through extremely traumatic and trying experiences. The authors learned from those experiences and grew to understand that they did not have to allow what happened to them to influence the rest of their lives negatively. Instead, they both chose to move on and have successful careers and happy lives, and decided to collaborate and write a book to help others also live “fantastic lives.” Purchase Here.

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life is subtitled “Two Survivors Reveal the 13 Golden Pearls They’ve Discovered.” Those “golden pearls,” or life lessons, aided them to get past the traumatic events in their lives and to move on. The self-help book that they wrote, detailing what those 13 golden pearls are, is full of revelations that the authors hope will inspire readers of the book. The negative things that everybody experiences in their lives, to one extent or the other, do not have to define who we are as people.

I really liked it that Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka opened up in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life and revealed the nature of the traumatic experiences they went through. Dr. Lycka was diagnosed as having Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and he was told he only had six months to live. Harriet Tinka was a fashion model and a Woman of Distinction who lived through the terror of being kidnapped by someone she knew, stabbed by the man, and left for dead. Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka could have let these things embitter them and alter the course of their lives and careers for the worse. Instead, they moved on, grew, and didn’t let the negative things they went through define them.

What are the 13 golden pearls that the authors discovered and relate to their readers in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life? Being an author myself, I don’t want to reveal too many “spoilers.” I’d rather that potential readers of the book get the pleasure of checking out what the pearls are on their own, by reading Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka’s book. They reveal what the pearls are in a captivating and entertaining manner by both telling stories from their own lives and also by utilizing a myriad of quotes from famous authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney, Christopher Reeve, and Bruce Lee.

I will mention a couple of the pearls that I loved reading about the most, though, and those are the importance of forgiveness and laughter. I will talk more about a few of the other pearls with Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka in an interview that they graciously agreed to do with me, which can be read elsewhere at this same site.

The ability to forgive somebody who has hurt and wronged you can be very difficult to do, but doing so is an important step if one wants to live what the authors refer to as “a fantastic life.” The authors write about this in the book’s seventh chapter, “Forgiveness.” They relate a story called “My Uncle” told by a contributor to the book, Lauren Magliaro. Lauren begins the chapter by telling about the reconciliation that took place between her uncle and her father, when her father was in the hospital due to suffering a brain aneurysm. Her uncle was there with Lauren and the rest of her family there at the hospital by their side, supporting them and his brother during a time Harriet describes as “the hardest days of our lives.”

After Lauren’s dad recovered, whatever the rift was between him and his brother was like a “slate – wiped clean.” From then on, both sides of Lauren’s family were back together, and she writes that “Family gatherings no longer had a dividing line.” Forgiveness is definitely a very powerful pearl we should all treasure in our hearts. Indeed, Lauren describes forgiveness as being “the essence of love.”

Laughter is such an important part of our lives that it has been sometimes called “the best medicine.” In the eleventh chapter of The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life, aptly titled “Laughter,” Dr. Lycka begins the chapter writing about a run-in he had with an obstinate camel he was trying to ride in Egypt. The camel driver, playing a joke on Dr. Lycka, tells him the camel he’s picked out is his “gentlest” one, but the stubborn animal refuses to obey the camel driver’s commands and cajoling.

The camel repeatedly attempts to throw Dr. Lycka, who by now regrets his decision to try riding the animal, off his back. It is only after the ordeal is over, and the camel driver buys a Coke for Dr. Lycka, that the author can see the humor in the situation and have a laugh about it. Both authors relate various ways that laughter, including being able to laugh at oneself, is important. Dr. Lycka writes that: “Laughter, especially at oneself, tempers ego, interrupts narcissism and improves your happiness in the moment.” It is one of the thirteen pearls the two authors write about that can really make a big difference in our lives, make the problems and worries we all have seem a bit less significant, and help people achieve a “fantastic life.”

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life is a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It is a valuable sand appealing self-help book that will have readers engrossed and entertained while also informing and teaching them about the thirteen secrets, or “pearls,” that authors Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka discovered. The knowledge about these pearls might not make us have fantastic lives overnight, but when put into practice on a daily basis, the nuggets of wisdom that the authors write about will definitely improve readers’ overall outlooks on life and will put them on the road to becoming better versions of themselves. This is a book I highly recommend you check out and add to your reading lists!

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Playing Soldier

Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service

Book Reviewed by Timea Barbaras

Playing Soldier” is a raw and masterfully written memoir by F. Scott Service. The book is dedicated to the personal experience of war. The author starts with the motivation that may lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war, and ending his tale with the aftermath. Purchase Here.

Our journey along Scott starts at the very beginning with his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he finds refuge from daily life in fiction and play. One day he finds the old field jacket of his father which sparks a new narrative for him, playing soldier. Dressed up in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood kids. School fails to hold Scott’s attention; he would rather continue to explore the many worlds of fiction. He was dreaming of becoming a literary world-builder himself but was repeatedly pulled toward more practical career alternatives.

The next stage of his life slowly ushers in and Scott marries his college sweetheart, Rita with whom he raises Spazzy, their beloved cat. Hand in hand they were slowly building their future together. But the sparkly surface blinds Scott from a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness as there is no substance to this projection of life together. The I became lost in us, or just in her. So, when offered the chance to join the National Guard, Scott, with his wife’s blessing, decides to follow his inner child’s call to adventure. The military still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romanticism and thrill. What is more, the recruiter also flaunts the perspective of good pay and better employment opportunities.

But what starts as playing soldier during his training soon spirals into an unrecognizable ouster reality on the edge of existence, as Scott is dropped off in the Iraq war. This is not the military service from his childhood games, nor the image that was blooming in his imagination ever since. It is something beyond scope and reason. War morphs into a black sun that slowly burns away his sense of reality and self. And as Rita decides to file for divorce, Scott’s life from before becomes just another collateral of war.

Disillusioned by war, Scott tries to break his ties with the military and rebuild a new life. But the shadow cast by combat seems unwilling to let him go. The expected social reintegration is severely impeded by an ugly divorce, an existential crisis, and PTSD. The temptation of the final escape triggers a light in Scott and a new journey begins.

Playing Soldier” is a deeply reflexive take on one’s own life and life in general. F. Scott Service skillfully draws in the readers through a series of intimate confessions and gets them hooked on a sweet melancholic note that rings throughout the pages of the book. The effortless and elevated literary language in the book can hook anyone, regardless of his or her interest in the topic of war. After all, this is a memoir dedicated to the human condition at its rawest, walking the line between life and death.