Tag Archives: Memoir

Audiobook Review – I Will Always Write Back – Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

i will always write backI Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives
Authors: Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Narrators: Chukwudi Iwuji, Emily Bauer
Run Time: 8hrs 52min
Audiobook Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Audiobook Review Copy Provided by Hachette Audio

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. All the other kids picked countries like France or Germany, but when Caitlin saw Zimbabwe written on the board, it sounded like the most exotic place she had ever heard of–so she chose it.
Martin was lucky to even receive a pen pal letter. There were only ten letters, and forty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through letters. Their story will inspire readers to look beyond their own lives and wonder about the world at large and their place in it.

I’ll admit that many times when it comes to reading/listening to memoirs, I end up coming away under-enthused about the subjects, because there always seems to be something fake about them (even if that is not entirely the case). However, when I was browsing the recent audiobook release offerings from Hachette, this YA memoir caught my eye and I am beyond glad that I requested it. Not only because the audiobook was nothing short of amazing, but because there seemed to be an honesty in the writing of both Caitlin and Martin. But let’s back up…

I grew up around the same time period as Caitlin and Martin (they are a couple of years younger than me), but I think for me when listening, it helped to establish a commonality between what they were talking about and somehow I had experienced it. I remember signing up for pen pal programs in school, although my experiences tended to be more like Caitlin’s classmates – one or two letters and then it kind of dwindled off – compared to the friendship that Caitlin and Martin developed over the years. Its kind of sad knowing that in the technological age that kids grow up in today, that joy of waiting for letters from some mysterious place overseas is something many likely won’t experience. Nowadays, we shoot off an email and it miraculously appears in someone else’s inbox on the other side of the world, the country or even next door. I love to see people take the time to write letters (and wonder if there are still organizations that do penpal exchanges out there…).

Its hard to say that I loved how the differences in Caitlin and Martin’s lives were portrayed, because you couldn’t help but get emotionally involved in Martin’s story – him and his family struggling for food, the type of house that they live in (if you could call it a house) and ultimately, how little it took to get them much needed supplies. And that Caitlin and her family just stepped up and did that because of the friendship between the two of them (actually, amend that, they are family), shows what a difference that little bit extra can be. How the actions of one person can literally save a life, or lives. I wonder if Caitlin hasn’t picked Zimbabwe from the list of countries, what if she had gone with France or Spain, or one of the more common countries…its mind-boggling to me how that one tiny decision had some many ramifications over the years.

I don’t know if the audiobook producers could have selected two narrators who were better suited to this project than Chukwudi Iwuji and Emily Bauer. Emily pegged the narration for an American teenager from the East Coast, down to the bratty-ness that I kind of expected at times; along with a touch of self-centered ness – seeing Caitlin transition from that I’m the center of the world, to wow, there is so much out there that I don’t know/understand was for me one of the best parts of the book. While I’m only had limited opportunities to interact with individuals from Africa, Chukwudi is how I visualized Martin sounding – that way of speaking with the very proper/formal English, compared to the more relaxed form that you hear elsewhere. For me, the audiobook just took what was already a good book and made it a great book.

I think this book (either reading or audio) would be a great addition to school classrooms when it comes to studying other countries (do they still do that?) and I’m going to recommend it to my local library to buy if they haven’t already. I’m intrigued enough to see if i can find any similar books (either fiction or non-fiction). I gave the book 4 stars and the narration 5 stars.

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Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Audiobook Review


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Review – The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz – Denis Avey

Avey_Auschwitz_mech.inddThe Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz
Author: Denis Avey

The almost unbelievable story of Denis Avey, now 92, began in 1944 when he was captured and sent to a POW work camp. He was put to work every day in a German factory, where he labored alongside Jewish prisoners from a nearby camp called Auschwitz. The stories they told him were horrifying. Eventually Avey’s curiosity, kind-heartedness, derring-do, and perhaps foolhardiness drove him to suggest–and remarkably manage–switching places with two of the Jewish prisoners in order to spend a couple of harrowing days and nights inside. Miraculously, he lived to tell about it.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a review of this book, but it seemed kind of appropriate considering that yesterday (the day that I finished it), marked 20 years since the Holocaust Museum opened in DC. And i had just spent an afternoon there the previous week (even though I have been multiple times, it is still an emotional/moving experience that leaves me shaken). This was particularly so because on the cover of the book, you could see the sign from Auschwitz that said “Work Will Make You Free” (translated). There is a similar replication of that sign at the Holocaust Museum. I found it interesting that there has been some debate over that sign – it was a well-documented fact that it was over the gates of Auschwitz I (the most well-known of the satellite of the camps). However, according to testimony in the book, it also appeared as a sign over Auschwitz III, right next to the POW camp where Avey was being held.

I do have to admit that I was expecting a bit more – when you see a book that is titled, “The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz,” – you would likely expect lots of danger and intrigue. There was that, but at the same time, I think that the author also played down his accomplishment. Yes, he could have been killed for what he did – but he managed to survive. I also expected that it would going to be for a long period that what actually occurred – but the majority of the book was dedicated to the lead-up to him becoming a POW, and then his life post-war. The POW portion of the war only encompassed about 6 short chapters in the book. But they were intriguing – I guess it would be hard to write on a topic when you experienced the same hell, day in and day out.

But stories like this are intrigued to me. I always thought that if I decided to pursue a graduate degree in history (rather than psychology), that I would likely focus on the Holocaust or some other aspect of war/military history. But at the same time, I had never considered looking at it from a psychological perspective. But that is just me mumbling away. I would definately recommend this book for anyone who is interested in WW2 memoirs. I think that it would also be a good book for students studying the WW2 European theatre because the author touches on a lot of the different operations that were on-going (the Africa Korps, Rommell in Africa, some of the Naval battles); as well as his time as a POW. It is a sad thought knowing that each year, more and more people with this memories are dying and soon there will be none left – and all that will remain are memoirs like Avey’s and personal recollections, like the work done by the Shoah Foundation to record the stories of survivors.


Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Book Review


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Review – Mrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker – Jennifer Chiaverini

mrs lincolnMrs Lincoln’s Dressmaker
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Release Date: January 15, 2013

Review Copy Provided by Dutton Adult via Edelweiss

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives.

I have previously read/listened to Ms Chiaverini’s work (her Elm Creek Quilters series) and enjoyed it, so when I saw that she had written a new book that was primarily historical fiction, I jumped on the opportunity to read/review it. My favorite part of her other series is how she is able to seamlessly go back in time to describe a key element, so I was curious to see how she could pull off an entire HF book. There have been numerous books written about Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley, her modiste (although the title is dressmaker, that isn’t necessarily accurate). However, I haven’t read any of them, which I am kind of glad of, because it meant that going into reading this book that my mind was a clean slate.

I found the first part of the book the most interesting about how Elizabeth came to work for Mrs. Lincoln following the election. But not only that, the sense of realism that was portrayed in how Mrs. Lincoln was talked/gossiped about – I made me think about the similarities between her and celebrities today – nice to see that some things haven’t changed. I really enjoyed the book up until the point just after Lincoln was assassinated and what happened to Mrs. Lincoln and her family – but then it just felt like it started going down hill. There were parts that it seemed like the author had just gotten a hold of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir (which I am planning on reading) and was just regurgitating some of the stuff mentioned in there. It felt much more memoir-ish, than historical fiction -which is a pity. The last 25% of the book or so just dragged – I wasn’t that interested in what was going on which was a disappointment because I had enjoyed the first part of it. The story behind the tell-all memoir was intriguing, and kind of reminds me of how pretty much every celebrity today has had a bio/memoir written about then and how newspapers like the National Enquire go to extreme lengths for these “tell-all” tales – so maybe some historical basis to how these items came to be?

I think that this stage, I probably would have gotten more out of reading the memoir, so I could see what was real and what the author had actually interpretated based on her research. The story behind the quilt was interesting (and I did like that in the authors note, she described how she had come up with the storyline for it that she had). While I enjoyed bits and pieces of the authors writing style, I think I am going to stick to her contemporary fiction with flashbacks – I found it much more enjoyable. I have requested a copy of Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir from the library and am curious to read it. Overall, I’d give Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker 3 stars, but it is on the lower side of the 3.


Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Book Review


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Audiobook Review – Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself – Alan Alda

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Author/Narrator: Alan Alda
Run Time: 6 hours, 1 min

Book Description:
On the heels of his acclaimed memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, beloved actor and bestselling author Alan Alda has written Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, an insightful and funny look at some of the impossible questions he’s asked himself over the years: What do I value? What, exactly, is the good life? (And what does that even mean?)
Picking up where his bestselling memoir left off–having been saved by emergency surgery after nearly dying on a mountaintop in Chile–Alda finds himself not only glad to be alive but searching for a way to squeeze the most juice out of his new life. Looking for a sense of meaning that would make this extra time count, he listens in on things he’s heard himself saying in private and in public at critical points in his life–from the turbulence of the sixties, to his first Broadway show, to the birth of his children, to the ache of September 11, and beyond. Reflecting on the transitions in his life and in all our lives, he notices that “doorways are where the truth is told,” and wonders if there’s one thing–art, activism, family, money, fame–that could lead to a “life of meaning.”

I’ve always liked Alan Alda – I grew up watching MASH re-runs on TV, and to this day, it is a comfort show for me. 99.9% of the time, I have already seen the episode, but there is the odd-occasion where one that I don’t remember ever watching pops up. So when I was browsing the shelves at the library one day and came across this audiobook, I jumped on the chance to list. As with the Ellen DeGeneres one, it is narrated by the author, and after listening to it, I don’t know if I could have named anyone better suited to do it.

Each chapter in the book is based around one of the various speeches that he has been invited to give over the years – at college graduations; for various professional societies and the events in his life that have influenced what he talks about and how he came to give the speech. So in and of, itself there is a lot of personal memories. But it also has his known sardonic humor that many of us probably remember from his role as Hawkeye (I mean, who can forget him making gin in his tent…).

The production of the audiobook was good, although, the CD’s when I listened to them, you could tell that they were a bit older and there were a few jumps here and there – but it didn’t distracted me too much. I’m def. going to be checking out Alda’s other memoirs in the future. 3.5 stars.

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Book Review


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Review – Seriously…I’m Kidding – Ellen DeGeneres

Seriously…I’m Kidding
Author/Narrator: Ellen DeGeneres
Run Time: 3 hrs, 7 minutes

Book Description:
“Sometimes the greatest things are the most embarrassing.” Ellen Degeneres’ winning, upbeat candor has made her show one of the most popular, resilient and honored daytime shows on the air. (To date, it has won no fewer than 31 Emmys.) Seriously… I’m Kidding, Degeneres’ first book in eight years, brings us up to date about the life of a kindhearted woman who bowed out of American Idol because she didn’t want to be mean. Lively; hilarious; often sweetly poignant.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a huge Ellen DeGeneres fan – I don’t know why, but I just don’t really like her. However, I did enjoy her narration of Dory in Finding Nemo…I mean, I walked around for days with “just keep swimming” stuck in my head…lol! However, when I was browsing the shelves at the library for a short-ish audiobook to fill in the time towards the end of a month, and I saw that this one was only 3 hours, I figured what the heck…why not.

I’ll also admit that authors for narrators typically don’t work for me because they don’t have the training that I feel they need in order to be successful. But I was proved wrong. Ellen’s narration had me in tears several times during this relatively short listen. I’m sure my co-workers were looking at me like I was insane because I was definitely laughing out loud.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about the book was how she took it from a listeners perspective and said listeners, instead of readers…she even devoted a chapter to random noises just for the audiobook people (and no I’m not kidding about that). Either way, I would recommend this for a quick, lite listening, if you need a bit of humor to get through the day. Overall, I’d give it 3 stars


Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Book Review


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Review – Monique and the Mango Rains – Kris Holloway

Monique and the Mango Rains
Author: Kris Holloway & John Bidwell

Book Description:
Monique and the Mango Rains is the compelling story of a rare friendship between a young Peace Corps volunteer and a midwife who became a legend. Monique Dembele saved lives and dispensed hope in a place where childbirth is a life-and-death matter. This book tells of her unquenchable passion to better the lives of women and children in the face of poverty, unhappy marriages, and endless backbreaking work. Monique’s buoyant humor and willingness to defy tradition were uniquely hers. In the course of this deeply personal narrative, as readers immerse themselves in the rhythms of West African village life, they come to know Monique as friend, mother, and inspired woman.

Over the last few months, I have discovered that various peace corps memoirs are a trove of information for various countries in my around the world challenge, because they are often set in countries that don’t have all that many book set in them, or written about them. Monique and the Mango Rains was no exception – through it we are told of the friendship that developed over the course of the 2 years that Kris Holloway was assigned to Mali for her Peace Corps job, working with Monique, who was one of the few midwives in the area, and the one who had the highest success rate in working with the women and children.

For me, it was a look at two lives that were so vastly different growing up, that merged for that two year period, and then remained merged over the next several years. They never truly diverged from each other. I felt myself want to cheer with Monique and Kris when they helped save a baby from dying of malnutrition, or when they were able to replace the birthing house with funds provided by the Peace Corps. There was just so much to be learned through-out the course of the book. Ultimately through, there was a sad ending which is disclosed in the opening to the book and I felt myself tearing up as I read that.

This book is a quick read, but I highly recommend it if people would like an incite into life in Western Africa in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Monique and Kris’s story can be purchased from Amazon here: Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali (paperback). And personally, I’ll be donating the copy that I bought to the library because who knows, maybe a teenager reading this book will be inspired to join the Peace Corps just like Kris and maybe they’ll meet their own Monique.


Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Book Review


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Review: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Jennifer Steil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another book that is hard to rate because of the content – it was a good read, intriguing and kind of made me want to visit Yemen (although I doubt I ever will). It was interesting seeing her assimilation into the Yemenese culture as she started working with them, as well as being a woman in a male-orientated society

View all my reviews

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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Book Review


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