Spoken From the Heart

It seems I’ve been too busy to read much lately, but the most recent book I finished was Spoken From the Heart, by former first lady Laura Bush. The book spans most of her life, and it seems as if there were really two separate parts: growing up and beginning a career, and then meeting George and being in a political spotlight.

Laura Welch grew up in Midland, Texas as an only child. She always wanted siblings, but due to multiple miscarriages, she remained an only child. She speaks of her love of books and literature and her career as a teacher and librarian. Her parents and friends were, and still are, a huge part of her life. She even writes about a car wreck she had in high school that resulted in the death of one of her friends and the grief that she will forever carry with her.

She taught elementary school in inner-city schools and trained to be a librarian. Finally, at age 30, she met George Bush. The two were introduced by friends in Midland. A mere three months later, “the old maid of Midland married Midland’s most eligible bachelor.” And with George’s large family, Laura finally had the siblings that she had so longed for. She and George soon discovered the difficulties of starting their own family. Finally, at age 35, Laura gave birth to twin girls, Barbara and Jenna, named after each of their mothers. Laura hoped she would have more children. “The years unwound and it didn’t happen. George never once said that he wanted more children. He never once said that he would have liked a son. He has always been thrilled with the two girls we got. We both are. But my heart was deep enough for more. There remained that twinge of what might have been.”

Laura recounts the election for Governor of Texas and the time spent as the first lady of Texas. She began a Book Festival in Texas, inviting many authors. This was also something she began when she was in Washington, founding the National Book Festival. During her husband’s time in the White House, Laura was involved in many projects near and dear to her heart. She valued education and freedom, two things she worked to bring to Afghan women who had been under Taliban rule. She also reached out to African nations where malaria and HIV were prevalent, but could be prevented or managed easily with simple things such as mosquito nets, or medication and education.

She recounts stories of antics in the White House, from guests to Congress members. She writes with honesty, compassion, and even a sense of humor. Overall, a beautifully written memoir that provides insight and explanation as to how Laura Bush has captured the minds and hearts of people across the nation and the world.

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Miles Away…Worlds Apart

I just finished reading Miles Away…Worlds Apart by Alan Sakowitz. I guess I can say that this is a book I won on Goodreads, even though technically I wasn’t selected as a winner in the drawing. But because I had entered, the author contacted me to see if I’d still be interested in receiving a free copy. This was definitely unexpected. It’s not unusual to be contacted with information about ordering a copy of an author’s book or provided with a discount code, but offering to give away a copy for free? And I’m sure Mr. Sakowitz didn’t send this offer to just me, either. So, I was a bit surprised, but I took him up on his offer. After reading the book, and gaining insight as to the type of person the author is, I’m not surprised at all.

This book tells the story of Scott Rothstein, an attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, who was involved in very large-scale fraudulent investor scheme (Ponzi scheme). Basically, he would find investors and pay them with money from future investors and so on. Eventually, the money would run out. It wasn’t this simple though. So many people were involved in this, from those who were tracking down investors to the banks that turned a blind eye to suspicious activity.

Alan Sakowitz, also an attorney, was contacted to be a potential investor. After learning a bit more about this investment, (or lack of learning, as Rothstein refused to disclose information, hiding behind the excuse of confidentiality), Mr. Sakowitz concluded that it must be a scam. All clues pointed towards a Ponzi scheme, money laundering, or a combination. He couldn’t just do nothing and allow others to be hurt or affected by this scam. The problem was that Rothstein had “low friends in high places,” and seemed to be well-connected. Mr. Sakowitz was very cautious about who he needed to go to because it would potentially put his life, and the lives of his wife and children, at risk. He decided to go to the FBI.  To sum up, Rothstein was busted and is in jail.

I usually don’t read a lot of non-fiction, preferring instead to read for mostly entertainment. However, I really enjoyed this book. My favorite parts were the stories the author incorporated about his own home community in Miami Beach. His neighbors and community took care of each other and genuinely showed concern and love for each other. This was such a contrast between Rothstein’s world, which was only “miles away, but worlds apart.” There were definitely lessons to be learned from this book, but I’ll allow the inscription from Mr. Sakowitz to sum up.

Sharon’s Journey Home

As the Eagle Cries: Sharon’s Journey Home by Carol A. Freeman is a beautiful yet tragic story about a mother’s love for her daughter and the way events affected her and changed her own life.  This is another book I won on a Goodreads giveaway. When I received it, I discovered that Carol had personally inscribed the book, which I thought was very thoughtful and nice of her.

In the first section of this book, Carol basically gives a very brief history of Sharon’s life. She was a baby with abnormal sleeping habits when she first came home from the hospital. Carol and her husband, Ron, moved to Arizona, settling in Phoenix before Sharon was a year old. She loved cats and took swimming lessons. She was full of life and energy. She attended a private high school, but during her high school years, Sharon started to have unusual behavior. She went on to attend college, having a string of boyfriends that were either concerned about her, or very callous regarding her behavior and condition. She was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The accident happened when Sharon was 27 years old. The police had been called to the apartment of Sharon and her boyfriend due to a domestic dispute. After arriving, the police checked to see if either Sharon or her boyfriend had any outstanding warrants. Sharon’s name came up for failing to pay restitution charges, so she was taken to jail. There, she fell and hit her head on the cement floor and was then admitted to the Critical Care Unit. She was in a coma. The neurosurgeon had performed a CAT scan, and asked Carol how long Sharon had had a cyst on her brain. This was the first time anyone knew about this cyst, and immediately Carol questioned the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Carol turned to Native American spirituality as a way to deal with Sharon’s condition and her own questions. She learns about shamanic journeying and goes on a Hanbleca, or Vision Quest, four times looking for answers to specific questions. Chief Phil Crazy Bull, of the Lakota, was a mentor and teacher and Carol learned much from him. During her first two Hanbleca, Carol communicates with Sharon’s spirit and learns that she does not want to come back to her body. It is too painful and she finally feels as if she can embrace freedom. Of course, this isn’t what Carol wants to hear, but she had found her answer anyway. When Sharon doesn’t pass as expected, Carol again seeks answers. Sharon says goodbye, and Carol knows that the next time her feeding tube breaks, she and her husband won’t replace it.

When this happens, Sharon comes home and receives care from Hospice. One day, Carol knows that Sharon will not make it through another night, so she stays beside her until the end. When Sharon takes her last breath, Carol sees a small gold light arise, go down the hall in the direction of Sharon’s room, then return, then go back down the hall, then return once more. This smaller light then merges with a larger light and then disappears. At seeing this, Carol only felt a sense of peace.

Sharon’s ashes are spread in Phoenix, (the location being another question answered at a Hanbleca). A couple of months later, Carol decides to finish her four-year Hanbleca commitment. This time, she goes to seek answers to questions about her own life and future. What is her life’s purpose? What was she supposed to learn in this lifetime? On completing this quest, Carol says that she felt that she had left her grief, sorrow, and loss behind and that she had a sense of needing to move forward now.

Carol wrote Sharon’s story when the idea presented itself to her while she was journeying. She immediately thought of everything surrounding the story, such as getting published, etc., but the answer she received was “Just write it.” And she did. It’s definitely a bittersweet memoir, but very inspirational. There is meaning in the face of tragedy.

In the conclusion of the book, Carol states, “I appreciate life and those around me and always finish a conversation with “I love you” to those special people in my life.” That’s definitely something I’ll try to take with me.

There is more information on the author’s website, www.carolfreeman.us. Also, Carol had an interview on a television talk show, “The Defining Moment,” which can be viewed here.

The Council of Dads

I recently read The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me, by Bruce Feiler. I won this book (actually an “uncorrected proof”) in a Goodreads giveaway, but it’s definitely something I would have picked up and read on my own.

Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author, with much of his success coming from walking. He had spent his whole life walking and traveling. One of his books is even titled Walking the Bible. At the beginning of the book, Bruce recounts getting hit by a car when he was a child and breaking his left femur. Years later, after marrying and having twin girls of his own, Eden and Tybee, a visit to his physician ultimately reveals that there is now a tumor growing on his left femur, in the same spot it was broken when he was a child. The diagnosis was cancer, and Bruce thought he might never walk again.

He also thought about the fact that he might not have much time left with his young daughters, and he worried about what that might mean for his girls. Several days after his diagnosis, watching his daughters play, he couldn’t control himself. He says, “I kept imagining all the walks I might not take with them, the ballet recitals I might not see, the art projects I might not mess up, the boyfriends I might not scowl at, the aisles I might not walk down.” And an idea began to form in his head. If he couldn’t be there for them, he wanted men from different parts of his life to represent those parts of himself to his daughters.  He made a list of six men, and drafted a letter. “I believe my daughters will have plenty of resources in their lives…but they may not have me. They may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad? Will you be my voice?”

In the remainder of the book, Bruce introduces each of the six men, distinguishing what lessons each may offer to his daughters. These life lessons include such things as “approach the cow,” “don’t see the wall,” and “harvest miracles.” Other sections of the book address family history, especially the role of his father and grandfathers and the men they were. Also throughout the book, Bruce chronicles his treatment and road to recovery, what he thinks of as “the lost year.” He sends out letters to friends and family members with updates about his disease as well as his family. And always he says, “Talk a walk for me.” Towards the end, Bruce proclaims that his Lost year was really his Jubilee year, a time when he was forced to slow down, be uplifted by those around him, and be reunited with the ones he loves.

This was definitely a well-written book. Along the way, I laughed and I cried, and I definitely thought “What if it were me?” I don’t have children yet, but I think that’s a bit beside the point. Who could I trust, besides my husband, to actually tell my children about me and show them the things I valued that I wanted to pass on to them? It’s definitely not an easy decision, or even an easy question. Bruce’s writing, although this is his only book I’ve currently read, is truly inspirational. He took a terrifying experience and emerged with wisdom and a new way of living everyday to its fullest. That’s something I think all of us could learn from, and enrich our lives in the process.

A Lion Called Christian

I read this book a few months ago and wrote a short review about it. I thought I’d share it now.

Someone recently sent me a link to a very touching and enchanting video on YouTube. After watching this reunion of two men with a grown lion they had raised as a cub, I had to buy the book to read the whole story.

A Lion Called Christian tells the true story of how two Australian men visiting London in the late 1960s purchased a lion cub at Harrod’s. For a few months, Anthony “Ace” Bourke and John Rendall shared their small apartment with Christian, the lion. Their apartment was located above a furniture shop called Sophistocat, so Christian seemed to become a mascot of sorts for a while. As he continued to grow, Ace and John began to explore options for Christian’s future. Life in a zoo was just not something they wanted to consider. Eventually, two English actors, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, wandered into Sophistocat, initially intending to purchase furniture. However, their meeting with Christian eventually led to his relocation to Kenya and integration into the wild under the care of George Adamson. A year later, Ace and John went to Kenya to visit Christian. At this point, he was already a member of a pride and according to George, quite possibly the largest lion in Kenya. Christian remembered his two friends and welcomed them gladly, as shown in the video.

I absolutely loved this inspirational story, and I recommend this book to all animal lovers.