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Category: memoir (Page 1 of 2)

Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Michael Kinyanjui

Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows: My Battles with Bipolar Disorder is Michael Kinyanjui’s powerful memoir about his struggles with mental illness. From his birth in Kenya to his eventual rock bottom, Kinyanjui discusses the many facets of his bipolar disorder and how he eventually tamed his inner demons.


At times, Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows almost seems to lose track of itself or become distracted. There are many instances where Michael Kinyanjui tends to get lost in his own reminiscing, seemingly forgetting what the main purpose of this memoir was intended to be. Instead of discussing his mental illness, he diverts to discussing female exploits and fun shenanigans he got into, without explicitly breaking down these stories or explaining to the reader how or why those events relate to his bipolar disorder. Also, the narrative is not in any sort of direct chronological order, making the timeline sometimes seem confusing.


Nevertheless, Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows is an intriguing and captivating memoir. Michael Kinyanjui writes in a casual, yet descriptive style that breathes life and emotion into his tales, painting a vivid and clear portrait of what his life was like as he struggled with his bipolar disorder. Equally enlightening and alarming, this book sheds light on what mental illness really looks like, as well as providing a helping hand to readers who may be in similar situations. Highest of Highs to Lowest of Lows: My Battles with Bipolar Disorder is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the tumultuous nature of bipolar disorder, as well as how to manage it and maintain bright optimism for the future.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Turning Mountains into Molehills – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Yvonne M Morgan

Turning Mountains into Molehills is Yvonne M Morgan’s touching memoir about her life and faith. After a particularly devastating loss that sent her down the rabbit hole of grief, Morgan turned to God for answers—and her own purpose. Through her faith in God and His plan for her, Morgan turned to humanitarian work and ultimately learned how to turn her “mountains” into “molehills.”

Unfortunately, much of Turning Mountains into Molehills seemed much too rushed. The pacing was quick and the descriptions of each memory short and blunt; while this might be an excellent approach in different circumstances, in this book, it only leaves the reader wanting to know more. In such an excellent story with such a profound purpose, it is disappointing that everything is glossed over so quickly, rather than being fully described and deeply explored. Perhaps one small reason for this is that there are too many events packed into each chapter, perhaps making it difficult to find the time and space to break each event in Morgan’s journey down as well as could be possible.

Nevertheless, Turning Mountains into Molehills is still a pleasant, eye-opening read. From the depths of grief to the relief of God’s love, Yvonne M Morgan takes her readers along with her on her life’s journey, with all its ups and downs. Morgan’s style of writing is equally casual and enlightened, making for a peaceful and uplifting reading experience. Her journey is inspirational, yet her humbleness and faith in writing about it make this story all the more interesting. Turning Mountains into Molehills is a loving, positive memoir that will undoubtedly serve as a beacon of light and hope for Christian readers who may have endured similar hardships in their lives and also come out on top.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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And Nothing But the Tooth – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Dr. Carroll James

And Nothing but the Tooth is the third installment of Dr. Carroll James’ Tooth Is Stranger Than Fiction series, in which he recounts his many humorous adventures in dentistry. From an awkward missionary trip to the whacky “emergencies” of his clients, Dr. James shares story after hilarious story in this unique memoir.

At times, And Nothing but the Tooth can be a bit difficult to follow, as the timeline is often unclear. Rather than a linear, orderly memoir, this book seems to be more of a random re-telling of any and all funny (and sometimes unrelated) memories that popped into Dr. James’ head. While each tale is, indeed, well-told and interesting, the lack of order in its development does occasionally distract from the book’s content. It is not necessarily detrimental to the overall book, but it does result in some awkward or seemingly rushed changes in topic.

Despite this, And Nothing but the Tooth is a spectacular read, full of spot-on humor and tales that almost seem too crazy to be true. Dr. Carroll James writes in a conversational, lighthearted tone, yet with an abundance of creativity that makes this book almost read more like great fiction than a memoir. Each scene, character, and subtle joke is colorful, descriptive, and phenomenally written, making for a most captivating read. An insanely entertaining and page-turning adventure, And Nothing but the Tooth miraculously manages to make dentistry—of all things!—exciting and wildly funny. This is a most worthwhile read—and almost guaranteed to make you want to switch your dentist after reading it.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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My Life He Did Touch – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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A. J. Harrison

The story that A.J. Harrison shares in his memoir, My Life He Did Touch: An Unlikely Friendship That Caught the Eyes of the World, is one that will touch readers’ hearts and souls. In 1985, Ryan White, a young teenager at the time, contracted AIDS through contaminated blood during treatments for his hemophilia. A.J. heard about the emotional, physical and legal struggles Ryan and his family were facing on television as the story made local and eventually national news. As a singer and songwriter, Harrison felt compelled to do something to help Ryan and his family. Before long, he became dear friends with the family and developed a close bond with Ryan. He raised money to help the family offest their expenses and gave them emotional support that they never could’ve dreamed of. Harrison’s friendship continued with Ryan until the young man eventually succumbed; his body no longer able to fight. My Life He Did Touch takes a look at Ryan’s struggle from Harrison’s point of view and may surprise readers with the depth of a friendship that blossomed in the midst of such tragic circumstances.

My Life He Did Touch: An Unlikely Friendship That Caught the Eyes of the World is a deeply sad story that has joy and happiness at its core. Through A.J. Harrison’s words readers are transported to the mid-80s and the AIDS epidemic in a way that most people never dreamed would have happened. It may not have a happy ending, but it is a beautiful story of love, friendship and selflessness as Harrison gave of his time and energy to do what he felt was the right thing to do. My Life He Did Touch is a very short read. That is the main drawback; more of the story could have likely been shared. The end of My Life He Did Touch came suddenly and almost unexpectedly. Yet, that could metaphorically represent the end of Harrison’s young friend’s life. A.J. Harrison’s My Life He Did Touch is well-worth readers’ time and an opportunity for their hearts to broken wide open and in turn be more understanding and helpful of others.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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The Last Portrait: A Psalm for Monique – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Deborah Nelson

The Last Portrait: A Psalm for Monique is Deborah Nelson’s memoir about the grief she endured after the loss of her daughter, Monique. Monique had just finished getting holiday portraits taken of her and her two-year-old son, then found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A gun fight between rival gangs erupted around her and she threw herself over her son to save him – ultimately losing her own life in the process. Afterwards, Deborah Nelson struggled to overcome a “Black Hole” of devastation and grief, sending her on a whirlwind journey to acceptance, love, and life.

The Last Portrait is not exactly a book to be enjoyed; on the contrary, it is overwhelmingly bittersweet. Although many joyful and sweet moments are shared, both from Deborah Nelson’s childhood and her daughter’s, starting the book by discussing Monique’s death added a certain sorrowful weight to any of the happier memories. Perhaps, though, that was the point. Still, The Last Portrait is a heavy story, and not one that could – or should – be read lightly.

Nevertheless, it is engaging and intriguing anyway, largely because of Deborah Nelson’s captivating narration. She writes in an eloquent, enlightened, incredibly human manner that draws the reader in with every word. By the end of The Last Portrait, readers will have felt Nelson’s joy, her anger, her sorrow, and her sheer determination and will along with her as she recounts her story. This is not an easy read by any means, but a wonderful one all the same. The Last Portrait: A Psalm for Monique is a heart-wrenching, exhilarating, human story of love, joy, loss, and life that will be sure to touch the hearts of all who read it.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Warren’s Finest – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

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Danny Range

Warren’s Finest is Danny Range’s harrowing memoir about his tragic past as a drug addict. After reaching rock bottom more than once, Danny Range was inspired to better his life. Now, as a motivational speaker and businessman, he shares his story to inspire others who may be on the path he was once on.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and not all of it is particularly favorable. There were many instances where the jokes didn’t translate well; some of the humor ends up falling flat or coming across as mildly offensive rather than being genuinely funny. The constant font changes, exaggerated narrative, and seemingly irrelevant tangents proved to be more distracting than entertaining. Also, there were many areas of Warren’s Finest that (unfortunately) seemed to almost condone the abuse of drugs and alcohol, as if it was all some big joke rather than the serious problem it is. This is a read-at-your-own-discretion type of book, and even so, readers could get by (and perhaps be better off) by just reading the last chapter.

Warren’s Finest does have a great deal of potential, though, particularly in the portions that discuss his “comeback” and eventual bettering of his life. This book would benefit from sharing more of the optimism and encouragement Danny Range shares in the book’s closing chapter, as these portions are what made the whole book. Also, credit has to be given for Danny Range’s creative storytelling; it comes across as a bit eccentric, but it certainly serves to keep the pages turning. Warren’s Finest missed the mark in some areas, but it ended on a high note, and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read. There’s certainly a lesson to be learned here, and Warren’s Finest may be a valuable tool in that endeavor.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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[Author Interview] Don Karp | Letters from Mexico

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Don Karp

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Don Karp: I am very grateful for my varied life. I’ve been through a lot and learned how to constantly change and adapt. Writing has helped me tremendously with this.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Don Karp: I started writing a journal in the mid-sixties. But I am a late bloomer, not having published my memoir until 2013. Actually, I did publish a few articles in local magazines and newspapers in the ’70’s and ’80’s.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Don Karp: I stared a new blog on my site called Letters From Mexico. I also have some articles on Medium.com, and regularly answer questions on Quora.com.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Don Karp: I like writing partly as a form of self-examination and awareness, but also as a way to help people. I feel I’ve some unique perspectives on life.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Don Karp: The technical issues of publishing online, marketing strategies, and I have mixed feelings about spending enough time writing.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Don Karp: Most of my ideas come from personal life experiences, some from dreams, others from friends.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Don Karp: Very eclectic! I love to do stream of consciousness as an aide to self-examination. I seldom reread these writings. For publication, I often use an outline, and write with pen and paper for my first rough draft.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Don Karp:Sure, new directions seem to pop up often. That’s one of the joys of writing for me. Novelty. I love it!

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Don Karp: I never thought of this question before. Of the top of my head, I’d say the back cover of my memoir. It succinctly expresses my philosophy of the values of “culture clash” which is part of the memoir’s title. Also it has a testimonial by an award-winning author, who it was my very good fortune to meet. Without her help I’d never have published it.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Don Karp: I just started a blog (Letters From Mexico) about my experiences living in Mexico that will become another memoir. I see at least two other memoirs covering different life themes. In mid-August I am facilitating a therapeutic journal writing workshop at two back-to-back conferences in Boston.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Don Karp: My site is http://www.donkarp.com. Look for me on Quora.com and
Medium.com. Facebook and @donsbumpyroad (Twitter).

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Don Karp: And thanks to you for sharing about me. I look forward to meeting and sharing with many new friends who read this!


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[Author Interview] Carol Marsh | Nowhere Else I Want to Be

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Carol D. Marsh

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Carol D. Marsh: I’m a 62-year-old woman living in Washington, DC with my wonderful husband. When not writing, I’m marketing my book and my online school, going to the Y for a work-out, knitting, reading, baking, or (a good bit of the time) managing chronic migraine pain.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Marsh: I’ve written as long as I can remember. Small notes to my Mom, birthday poems for family members, the usual (bad) teenage poetry and essay attempts. My serious writing, meaning not for work or fund-raising, began in 2010, when I started my memoir.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Marsh: Nowhere Else I Want to Be: A Memoir was published in January 2017. It’s a work of literary nonfiction that got its big push at the Goucher College MFA program (2012-2014). And I’ve had a couple of essays published this summer, one in The Los Angeles Review, the other in Lunch Ticket.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Marsh: Its combination of creativity and intellect, and the way I feel while I’m writing and in the hour or so after I’m done. I also love the rewriting process – finding the right word or phrase, testing how the words feel in my mouth, getting to the precise point or meaning. It’s so rewarding.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Marsh: Getting past the inertia of anxiety and the feeling that I’m not actually a writer. Not, at least, in the way I assume other writers are. I have a sense I’m not good enough to express this emotion, or make that argument, or say this thing about something important. My journey as a writer has been, in part, about trusting my own voice.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Marsh: I write nonfiction and memoiristic essays, so my ideas come from my life, by way of my heart.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Marsh: My writing process is choppy because I have chronic migraine disease and am unable to establish a regular, daily practice. But I’ve learned to write when not in too much pain, and to let it go when in a lot of pain. I’ve had to ignore the common wisdom about writing for five hours a day, but I suspect most of us do. Who has the luxury of all that time? Certainly not parents, or the employed, or students, or … you get the message.

Because of that, my writing process never runs on momentum. I manage by fits and starts, and have had to learn not to let the fits keep me from starting. And then, having to start again. I’ve found if I accept my process’ choppy nature, I worry less about not having a regular practice, which gives me more energy to write when I can.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Marsh: I have to guard against the writing taking over because too often I seem to veer into the fanciful or the made-up. As though I’m writing how I want something to have been rather than how it was in reality. This is partly because writing a scene means getting to details – sound, smell, sight, etc. I end up questioning myself at the end of a writing session that has got away from me, wait, was the wind really blowing so hard that day? Or was that a different day? Did she actually say that in so many words?

At Goucher College, where I got my MFA, we were told not to make sh*t up. Honestly, that’s one thing for long-form journalism, and quite another for memoir. Not that writing memoir is an excuse to make sh*t up. It’s not. But we’re so often writing about something not researchable as fact. We rely on our memories or the memories of others. And memories are notoriously sketchy when it comes to reliability. So a memoirist needs to hone her integrity and closely monitor how she writes through inevitable memory gaps, working to not fill them in with sh*t. Plus, she takes advantage of research that can help with accuracy, such as public records, weather reports, home videos and photographs, and diaries or journals.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Marsh: Oh, dear, that’s hard to say. If I have to choose, I’d say it’s not one part, but the scenes in which we’re together as a community. (My memoir is about ten of the years I worked and lived at Miriam’s House–a residence for Washington, DC’s homeless women with AIDS–as its Founding Executive Director). I tried to recreate the sounds and language and feel of our gatherings. They were fun to write and are fun, now, to read.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Marsh: I have a couple of essays in the works, and am started on a new full-length project that I’ll be mysterious about for now.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Marsh: Two places: 1) my website, http://www.caroldmarsh.com/; and my online school, http://forumatcaroldmarsh.com/ (Forum for Growth in Service — support and challenge for people who want to serve others authentically, compassionately, and effectively).

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Marsh: Thank you so much for this opportunity.


*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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How Mommy Got Her Groove Back – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Rebecca Undem

How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is Rebecca Undem’s touching memoir about her departure from and eventual return to her rural upbringing. Raised in Oakes, North Dakota, Rebecca cherished growing up in the country with her loving family. However, she yearned for a more exciting life in the city. After a series of corporate jobs in big cities, though, Rebecca began to feel like her heart wasn’t really in it. She and her husband, Jeremiah, returned to Oakes to help her parents with the family business. Once there, she struggled to balance her desire for a successful career, her familial role as a farmer’s wife, and her new, most important job as a mother to their three young children. A long, zig-zagged road of trial and error later, Rebecca found herself and her calling in the one place she least expected to do so: her own hometown.

How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is a true gem in a dozen different ways. The most significant is that it is so easy to relate to; at times, it feels so very personal. Although it is a memoir of her own life, Rebecca Undem’s trials and triumphs are ones that we all, as human beings, have faced at one point or another. She is all of us, in that she is a determined woman who is just trying to do the right thing for herself and her family. Her words are poignant, yet casual; witty, yet friendly; humorous, yet so strikingly hard-hitting. It is sometimes difficult to become so wholly invested in the life of another, but Rebecca Undem achieves that captivation immediately and maintains it until her last page.

This book is anything but just a memoir. How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is an epic adventure, full of love, sadness, faith, and above all, life. Also, perhaps without intention, it is brimming with friendly advice and confident support. All in one short book, How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is a shoulder to lean on, a picture of nostalgic love, and a beacon of light to lead its readers to their own callings, serving to cement Rebecca Undem as a forever “Nestie” for all of us.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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The Sparrow’s Spirit – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Bill Welker

The Sparrow’s Spirit is Bill Welker’s autobiographical memoir about the tumultuous early years of his life. Having come from a long line of champion wrestlers, it was expected that Bill would wrestle in school, too – and he did. Nothing mattered more to Bill than wrestling, and after a series of impressive victories, he even received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Once there, though, his life began to spiral out of control. Bill’s struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and depression caused him to abandon wrestling and turn to alcohol, subsequently getting in trouble often. From then on, Bill Welker was faced with defeating his most challenging opponent to date: himself.

Unfortunately, it is almost immediately evident that The Sparrow’s Spirit is quite poorly organized. Many of its passages (notably those about his elementary years) read more like individual diary entry blurbs than a connected, coherent memoir. Sometimes, certain stories within this memoir feel like irrelevant tangents. Other times, the storyline jumps around a bit, which can lead to confusion. This lack of organization is especially disappointing because Bill Welker’s memories are fascinating and well-written; they could just use some reorganization and better transitions between them.

Aside from this one glaring drawback, The Sparrow’s Spirit is an enchanting and overwhelmingly relatable memoir. Bill Welker manages to capture the naïve innocence of childhood, the uncertainty of adolescence, and the dark reality of depression all in this short book. Although some of his content is certainly more serious and straightforward, Welker’s narrative is always compassionate and introspective, injected with just enough humor to leave the reader feeling lighthearted and engaged. This book is sure to resonate with any reader, as we can all surely see bits of our own transformative journeys in the one that Bill Welker shares with us in The Sparrow’s Spirit.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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