“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.

In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.

In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Ugly: A memoir” Robert Hoge

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Viking.

uglyRobert was born July 21, 1972 with a giant tumor covering his face, underdeveloped legs, and missing toes. His mother refused to accept him, while his father left the decision of whether or not to keep him up to her. It wasn’t until many weeks later, when his four brothers and sisters were allowed to take part in the decision, that he was finally taken home.

Using simple explanations, Robert’s many operations and “aha!” moments are documented from elementary to high school. Despite being vague on the details of why he was born this way, and what happened after age 14, he clearly documents how he worked hard to live an ordinary life despite his physical limitations. He is an inspiration to those facing similar struggles.

Recommended for ages 9-14.

“Cinderland: A Memoir” Amy Jo Burns

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. Beacon Press. 208 pp.

CinderlandAmy Jo grew up in the sleepy town of Mercury, Pennsylvania, which flourished when steel was king but was now a shadow of itself. With mills shuttered, the close-knit town’s many traditions kept it going while its young people secretly dreamed of ways to get out of town. This is the story of a small town that survived the mill closures, yet allowed its own soul to die by not supporting a group of young girls who were sexually abused by one of its own.

Through flashbacks, Amy Jo tells her story of sexual abuse along with the history of Mercury and its people. I wasn’t a fan of her wandering narrative, and found myself wanting to put the book down instead of reading it because it wasn’t holding my interest. I managed to finish, but only did so because I had to write a review for it.

Perhaps other readers will be interested in reading Amy Jo’s story, which is why I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Love by Deception: A harrowing true story of love and betrayal” K.C. Barnard

Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. 2014.

LoveByDeceptionDevil Man, Cockroach, Tomcat and Floppy. What do these names have in common? They belong to a series of physically and mentally abusive men the author dated over a few years.

“Love by deception” is supposed to convince readers in abusive relationships that they can escape. Barnard lists tons of warning signs for them to look for in her quest to lead them away from the darkness of their sufferings. Instead of accomplishing this goal I felt like the author never listened to her own advice as she went from one abusive relationship to the other in 7 years.

Devil Man seemed so horrible, yet she went back to him THREE times! After she finally managed to set herself free from him, Barnard talked about how she needed to listen to the inner voice she’d kept ignoring about Devil Man, and went over all the ways she should have known he was a terrible person. On and on she went about how she was now a “stronger and more compassionate person” yet, after Devil Man, she still allowed herself to be manipulated by Tomcat and soon entered into another awful relationship with Cockroach followed by an abusive one with Floppy.

The takeaway for me was that she would continue not to listen to her inner voice, and would continue to date terrible men because of her habit of wanting to give these awful men in her life second chances. I would think by now that she’d realize those second and third and fourth chances were the sounds of shovels as she dug herself deeper and deeper into relationship problems.

I do not recommend this book because of its confusing message, but will leave it up to you to decide if You want to Read it or Not.

“Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility” Mary McManus

Rated 4 stars **** 2014. Createspace. 236 pp.

ComingHomeMary McManus incorporates memories, as well as present-time events, to tell the story of her life after contracting polio at the age of five. Despite recovering from this disease she faced years of physical, mental and emotional abuse from her parents and grandmother.

Over the years the stresses brought on by these abuses accumulated in her body causing severe physical problems, and resulting in a diagnosis of post-polio syndrome when Mary was just a few years away from retirement. Physicians and therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, as well as other health caregivers, worked together to give Mary the spiritual, physical and emotional strength she needed to heal her body from its trauma.

Determined to do something meaningful with her newfound feeling of mental and physical strength, Mary decided to run the 2009 Boston Marathon to raise money for Spaulding Rehab. Triumphantly crossing the finish line of the marathon was just one of Mary’s many accomplishments described in “Coming Home,” as she valiantly worked to regain the person she had lost at the age of five and rewrite her past.

Mary is a fellow member of my running club, the L Street Running Club in South Boston. After reading her self-published life story, I have to salute the courage and strength she displayed in working through extreme trials which a young girl should have never had to endure, and which led to the beautiful and generous person she has become today. Mary, you are a survivor and I salute you!

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know I try not to read self-published books because of the amount of grammatical errors usually contained within them. However, since Mary was generous enough to donate part of the proceeds of her book to a reputable charity, and is a fellow club member, I felt I should read her book and learn about her story. I was able to put aside my editing hat and read Mary’s story for its rawness and truthfulness. I gave it a 4 star rating for its content, and trust you will agree when you read it.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Stories” Lucha Corpi

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Arte Publico Press. 242 pp.

ConfessionsOfABookBurnerLucha Corpi, formally known as Luz del Carmen Corpi de Hernandez, is a 72-year-old Chicana poet, mother, wrestler of life and dreams, author of Chicana crime fiction, and a civil rights advocate. Through “Confessions of a Book Burner,” Lucha crafts an impelling look at the hopes, fears and dreams that led to her becoming an established Chicana poet.

Through the use of flashbacks and the present time, Lucha describes the childhood she spent with her family and extended family in her beloved Mexican village of Jáltipan de Morelos, Veracruz and in San Luis Potosí where she moved when she was 8 years old. Storytelling, instrumental to learning family history in many Mexican homes, is used by Lucha to craft her own story and bring it to life for her readers. Descriptions of village life, holiday and familial customs as well the beauty of nature play large roles in her recollections.

Lucha discusses the meaning of dreams, debates whether or not the color of one’s skin defines a person, how one discovers their own destiny, and the role clairvoyance played in her life. She also recounts events in Berkeley and Oakland California during the 1960’s and 1970’s in which she participated, which weave an historical narrative of the Chicano fight for equal rights in education and in their work lives.

“Confessions of a Book Burner” is a must-have for students of Chicano history, lovers of poetry, and those interested in seeing how an immigrant from Mexico changed her world.

Recommended for Adult readers.

 

 

“The Reappearing Act: Coming out as Gay on a College Basketball Team let by Born-Again Christians” Kate Fagan

Rated 4 stars **** To be published May 6, 2014. ebook. ARC. Skyhorse Publishing.

TheReappearingActKate Fagan, former women’s basketball player for the University of Colorado, tells her story in “The Reappearing Act.” As she grew up she didn’t think she was gay, assuming feelings she’d had for girls over the years were just excited thoughts for possible friendships.

With her life revolving around basketball, Kate thought college life was great. During her sophomore year everything changed when her teammates invited her to join them at a Bible study. These Bible studies became weekly meetings where homosexuality and other topics were discussed. Kate had just begun to realize she might be gay, and these times served to further confuse and frighten her.

Kate was afraid of the feelings she kept having for other women. These feelings, combined with the fear of telling her parents, losing her best friend and of her teammates’ reactions caused Kate to retreat further into herself. As a result, during her college years, she led a double life constantly feeling guilty and confused as she tried to reconcile the Bible with her own feelings and beliefs. This pattern of telling lies and half-truths carried over into her adult working life, until she could finally admit to the world that she was gay.

Fagan’s honest account of her insecurities and internal battles will ring true with readers struggling with their own similar reality. “The Reappearing Act” will serve as a testimony that there is light at the end of their dark tunnels of uncertainty and fear.

Recommended for readers 18 years old and older.