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Picking the Right Dreams

Kathleen Schmitt Author Interview

Kathleen Schmitt Author Interview

The Grand Trek follows a unique journey to Arizona and the people encountered on the way. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thought provoking memoir?

(WIth the caveat that Arizona was the original idea but the actual Trek turned out differently) The seed for what I came to call The Grand Trek was planted over the breakfast table one morning just after I graduated from high school while living at Horst and Harriet’s farm in Scales Mound, Illinois. Harriet speculated that one of their horses looked like he might not make it through another tough northern Illinois winter. As a (bad) joke, I suggested she ride him to her sister’s place in Arizona. Most folks would have taken this as a jest. Instead, Harriet went to get an atlas.

I found this story to be energetic, engaging and evocative. What were some themes you wanted to capture while writing this story?

The main theme is fulfilling the dreams we have for our lives, and picking the right dreams to follow. Another theme is the contrast between urban and rural life, which is something that has been part of my life story. A third is the connections with my horses and dogs and the natural environment. Perhaps increasingly relevant these days is how basic is the need for water. Not a theme as such, but frequently having only a general idea of where I was and where I was heading came up a lot! That is to say that I spent a lot of time basically lost, and learned not to worry about that as long as I kept heading west.

I enjoyed the interesting and varied characters introduced throughout your novel. What were some ideas that you wanted to explore with your characters?

I wanted to relay the way folks I encountered go about their lives, which is more interesting than may be obvious at first sight because it isn’t always dramatic or extraordinary. For example, a lot to think about arose when asking for some water from a mother hanging out laundry to dry. On the face of it, that encounter seems mundane in comparison with the time I asked for some water from a fellow who kept exotic animals like yaks. On reflection, though, the apparently more mundane encounter told worlds about how thoughtfully and innovatively that family approached their lifestyle. I didn’t have a particular plan about what to explore about my encounters. They each had their own significance.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The Best That Can Happen: The Grand Trek wraps up with my stepping off the corporate ladder to re-open a horse training operation at a once well-known facility in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. I’m deciding on how best to approach it. I’m presently leaning toward researching the lives of the people who have occupied that property over the years. The property has some historical relevance, as it was part of the Fairfax Grant of over 5 million acres in the mid-1600’s. There are no doubt a wealth of interesting characters and social development themes to explore, including how America looked pre- and post-European settlement! Lots to research, so it’ll be a while before that’s done. I’m also considering a fictional murder mystery at the farm. That could be fun!

Author Links: Website | GoodReads

The Best That Can Happen: The Grand TrekStories of a journey of discovery traveling cross-country by Kathleen, her horse, Murphy, and her Boxer dog, Country Boy. Unusual for travel memoirs, it explores preparing for the Trek (including catching Murphy and training Country Boy as a protection dog) and what follows such an adventure. It is an entertaining ramble along America’s backroads meeting a very special cast of characters; a humorous and occasionally terrifying roadmap of Americana and pursuing the dreams of one’s youth.

Available at TheGrandTrek.com

JUMP!

JUMP!: An epic travel and soul adventure by [Louw, Lenerd]

Not many people are attentive enough to hear an inner voice let alone listen to it. Lenerd Louw had always had a small voice inside of him urging towards a direction he had never taken before. The voice was leading him to veer off a life he had always lived, enjoyed and took some measure of pride in. The voice only grew louder over time. Then Lenerd took the time to actually listen to the voice. He took the time to audit his life and venture into the unknown with nothing but a large backpack. Five years later, he has a new outlook on life.

Lenerd leaves nothing to the imagination. He lets the reader deep into the belly of the story. He tells such a vivid story that while he is momentarily mesmerized by the Jacuzzi fire, the reader will be right there with him. You can almost smell the cocktail of diarrhea and vomit when he attempts to rid himself of parasites.

His style of telling his story is completely engaging and involving for the reader. There is an authentic air about the author. Even as he accuses himself of in-authenticity, the fact that he is questioning means that it lies somewhere within him. You can tell that he is not in any way completely devoid of it. This quality comes through in the way he tells the story as well as the events he chooses to highlight.

This was definitely a story worth telling. It is a story of triumphs. Often people think that those perched atop privilege and success have it easy. Truth is that they too, undergo the same kind of struggles that everyone does. In that sense, this story is relatable. Although the reader may not have the means to traverse the world like he did, Lenerd’s experiences and his candid narration of the story connect him to the reader right from the beginning.

Although I liked the book, I felt that the story tended to jump around without notice. This left me a little confused at times, like when someone digresses when they tell a story. Regardless, you will enjoy Lenerd’s discovery of self.

The reader will be gripped right from the scene by the fire with the two girls on the table to his recall of the Café at the Edge story. Everything in between will be a beautiful roller-coaster. Speaking of the story, it is the perfect ending to a great story. It is so apt and fitting and wraps up the book quite nicely.

Pages: 286 | ASIN: B07TZJM1ZQ

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Mango Rash: Coming of Age in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta

Every person in their youth has dreamt of escaping to some exotic locale for fun, freedom, and newness. Someplace on the globe that is ‘other’; a place that can physically represent the internal battle of reaching adulthood and really understanding how things change and how one wants to find their own and new identity.

For the author, Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, the dream of a far off world full of new possibilities was a lush and beautiful reality. Mango Rash is a memoir of her brief time in America Samoa as a teen back in the mid-sixties. But it is so much more than that! Nan’s recall of her life-transforming time is a lush, layered, inviting and provocative tale that is so delightful to read!

Mango Rash peppers in historical references and factual instances in a perfect way that makes Nan’s story more intriguing and doesn’t date the story. In fact, the writer’s coming of age story is so timeless in the way that any teen can relate too in any age or any setting.

America Samoa provides such a picturesque and breathtaking backdrop to the timelessness of Mango Rash. Nan’s voice is so strong and effective and pens such a likable and marvelous story with a place that everyone will want to visit and a group of people that everyone will want to meet.

Nan’s ups and downs on the island mirror her ups and downs in life and her voyage to figure out where her home really is. The all too brief interactions with her parents and the very quick observations she makes about the world around her were such wise touches!

Mango Rash has an ending I did not see coming, but probably should have. Despite the memoirs’ sudden end and out of nowhere change, the author makes the conclusion stick with flair and whimsy.

Pokerwinski has a huge talent for drawing the reader in with such ease and flair; like listening to a story being told by your best friend! Everything about Mango Rash is delightful and wondrously fun!

Take the time to enjoy this book and you will find yourself reflecting on the people and places that helped shape you and still hold a part of your heart today; as well as identifying closely with the characters. For sure, you will dream of American Samoa and will be hoping that Nan has more stories to tell.

Pages: 300 | ASIN: B07WNXS6LV

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Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer; either indirectly or directly by this aggressive and unpredictable disease. Serious diseases affect people in different ways, sometimes the emotional storm leaves you as unprepared as the illness. A child battling cancer is as bad as it gets and the real life story of Adrienne Wilson is a total gut-wrencher as well as beautiful, uplifting and encouraging one. Better off Bald: A Life in 147 Days is an undeniably fascinating read that should be experienced!

There is so much raw truth and strength in the authors recounting of her sisters battle with childhood cancer. Andrea Wilson’s story is a roller coaster of hope, anger, grief, nostalgia, determination, self guilt, and courage that can only be matched my her marvelous and spirited sister. The truth about cancer is that there is no absolutely true path or outcome. Everyday and every story is different. Despite knowing the end for Adrienne the author is successful at making the reader understand how every day and moment is different and unique and the journey of these 2 strong women is just as compelling as can be hoped for.

Andrea Wilson Woods opens up her soul with her memoir Better off Bald: A Life in 147 Days. This fabulously narrated journey lays out all that can be experienced when dealing with the terminal illness of a minor.

There are countless ups and downs in Adrienne’s story and it’s not straight forward nor easy. What in life is? The roller coaster ride is raw and real and the unbalance of this story makes it remarkable.

Better off Bald paints such a vivid picture of the complexity of cancer and the real life challenges of living in the moment and how people think and react to every changing scope of their new reality. The author captures the readers heart and attention with clarity and grit. There is so much in Adrienne and Andrea’s story that makes you wish you had known them in person and feel like you already do.

From beginning to end A Life in 147 Days demands attention and you just want to keep reading and reading. The triumphs and tragedies of the two sisters is a story that must be shared and I am so grateful the it was! The author ends her story with a call to action and perspective that is relatable and honest. A truly great read!

Pages: 394 | ASIN: B07X3N6TCP

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My Life at Sweetbrier

My Life at Sweetbrier: A Life Changed by Horses by [Humphrys-Dunne, Deanie]

My Life at Sweetbrier: A Life Changed by Horses is a non-fiction book written by Deanie Humphrys-Dunne about her true life experiences growing up on a horse farm in Easton, Connecticut called Sweetbrier. After Deanie’s parents were told she would probably never be able to walk, she not only overcame her disability in order to learn to walk but Deanie also learned to ride horses and becomes an equestrian jumping champion, riding a horse named Fleet Nancy (Peach). Then she has surgery on her leg to help her walk better and she has to relearn to walk and ride all over again. After many months of physical therapy and hard work, she comes back to the jumping circuit and wins even more championships.

I enjoyed reading this book. It had an inspiring message about overcoming obstacles in order to reach your goals, to keep trying even when you fail and not give up. It’s a message that will resonate with all readers regardless of whether or not they have a physical disability like Deanie.
The descriptions of Little Man (Deanie’s first pony) were humorous as she described his actions when she was learning to ride, but it was sad to read about the horses that the family lost when the barn caught on fire.

I loved that the author included family photographs and pictures of the house and barns at Sweetbrier and the horses owned by the Humphrys Family while Deanie was growing up. There were also pictures of the Humphrys sisters jumping at various horse shows.

Although I enjoyed the book, I felt that the story was a bit disjointed at the beginning, with Deanie retelling various events in her past, jumping from one memory to another without  connections between them. I would have preferred a more cohesive narrative in that section of the story, but this is not an issue in the later parts of the story. No dates were mentioned, and I would have liked to know when Deanie was growing up and when she won numerous equestrian jumping championships.

This is an inspirational story that excellently conveys the moments and emotions of Deanie’s life. This book invites readers into a personal story, one that is told boldly, and I appreciated it.

Pages: 144 | ASIN: B0711P67DM

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From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam

From Miracle To Murder: Justice For Adam by [Lefler, Joyce A]

In May of 1977, Joyce gave birth to her second child, a son named Adam. Adam was a beam of light in an otherwise dark world surrounding Joyce and her daughter, Anne. Joyce was faced with the daunting task of raising a child with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome–a child she was told would never thrive and would require intense specialized care the rest of his short life. Joyce, a woman already trapped in an intensely abusive marriage, vowed to raise her son and his older sister together for as long as he may survive. In May of 1977, Joyce began a journey of new love with her two small children. In September of 1983, she was accused of Adam’s murder.

From Miracle to Murder: Justice for Adam is the true story of Joyce A. Lefler’s harrowing experience as a battered wife and a mother accused of murdering her young so told in her own words. From the first pages of Lefler’s story, it is painfully clear that Joyce is a fighter. The abuse she endured at the hands of her husband was nothing short of horrific. The author describes in vivid detail the moments of hair-pulling, his verbally abusive tirades, and the incidents of rape she endured as her children slept. Her husband, Allen, was a monster by all rights and possessed no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Several times while reading, I gasped audibly at the terrorizing scenes described by the author.

When accused of murdering her young son, Adam, Joyce faced obstacles at literally every turn. I cannot imagine losing one of my children and having the other ripped from my arms and turned against me. Joyce is a special person indeed. She is a survivor in every sense of the word.

The circumstances surrounding Adam’s death and the light shed on the many mistakes made during his murder investigation are overwhelming. She describes the most infuriating neglect on the part of the police department. All of these oversights led to one heartbreak in Joyce’s life after another. From having her husband awarded custody of her daughter to having trusted friends run the other way after her own arraignment, Joyce watched her life fall out from beneath her, but she somehow held her own.

It’s difficult to say this is a great book because it’s a tragic true story. I will say this–if your life has in any way been touched by abuse, this is a book you should read. By the same token, if you are the parent of a child with special needs, Joyce’s life story is one with which you should familiarize yourself. So much can be learned from her experience with her son and some of the medical professionals Joyce encountered in Adam’s first days. From her childhood to her marriage with her first husband to her painful existence looking back in fear of being accused again of her son’s death, Joyce describes for readers an incredibly difficult life of choices no one should have to make but everyone should read.

Pages: 309 | ASIN:  B07FMGGHTG

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My Kill Play

My Kill Play: When a Virus Hijacked the Roller Derby by [Patten, Tim]

My Kill Play is the true story of the author’s life, struggles, and triumphs as told through his journey in the world of roller derby.  The term “kill play” refers to a group of players on a team organizing themselves to violently take out a specific player on the other team.  In this book, Tim Patten, is referring to the HIV/AIDS virus that was “ganging up” on gay men in his roller derby world and across the nation. It is absolutely heart-wrenching as the author describes how this virus came into his world and turned it upside down. I enjoyed getting an inside look into the uprising of the roller derby world as it becomes the well-known sport it is today. Unfortunately, this story also involves the discovery and uprising of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Tim describes his path through roller derby as well as his experience with extreme illness. This book taught me a lot about this time in history as experienced by someone really living in the heart of the crisis. The author gives emotional recollections that truly put the reader in the middle of it all. At times I felt so uncomfortable and helpless, knowing full well how much this illness continues to impact peoples’ lives all over the world. The writing was emotive and sincere. Although I felt that it would have been more impactful if it was written in the first person versus the third person. I knew that this was his story, so I found it somewhat disconnecting to read in the third person. I absolutely loved learning about the inner workings of the roller derby, as I know several people who currently participate in this intriguing sport. I also loved the relationships he describes amongst the characters in his life.

Despite the upsetting pieces to this story, I found it to be a heartwarming and inspiring book overall. Tim took what was given to him and turned it into a platform for thriving. As he says, he truly embodies the expression, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.

Pages: 321 | ASIN: B06XRZSRPS

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The Farthest-Reaching Ball: A Memoir of Motherhood

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The Farthest-Reaching Ball A Memoir of Motherhood by Sandra Bowman is definitely a unique read. The book starts with an Author’s Note explaining that the author has a daughter and that this daughter has always been her daughter. When I first read that sentence I wondered if maybe the author had adopted her daughter and that’s why she had declared that, but in fact, it turns out that her daughter is transgender which made it an intriguing read. In the story, you follow the life of Sandra and her son Grant with husband, Robert, and youngest son, Parker, almost being side characters. Grant realizes at a young age that he feels as though he is a female, but he is unsure of how to open up to anyone for fear of rejection.

Throughout the story, he is an intelligent man that everyone loves but he goes through some very dark times hiding away from the world, wanting to be left alone, dropping his grades despite his intelligence, dropping out of college multiple times as well as other situations all because he is afraid of rejection. He is afraid of coming out and people rejecting him, hating him, taunting him. He’s on medication for depression, later he’s diagnosed as bipolar, he skips therapy and doctor’s appointments multiple times. He’s one huge depressed messed. It takes years for Grant to finally come out and admit that he is a female and that his name is Grace.

I had mixed feelings towards this story because I try very hard to not judge parents since I’m a parent myself, but I found it hard to not judge Sandra for almost forgetting that she had a second son because she was so focused on Grant and his issues. I felt bad for Parker throughout the story and wanted to adopt him. I was so glad when Parker finally opens up about feeling neglected and I am happy that eventually the family is able to find happiness and become a whole again. I love that Parker accepted Grace for who she is even though she was the cause of him being neglected throughout his childhood and young adult life. I felt bad for Sandra for everything that she was going through, I could feel her emotions as she battled her own depression, I could feel her relief when she finally knew what the problem was with her daughter and I could feel her happiness when her family became whole again. I think Sandra did a really great job conveying the emotions in the story.

This is an exceptional memoir, the only thing that I didn’t like was that the timeline jumps around a bit, Grant is young and then in the next scene he’s an adult and then the next scene he’s young again. This happens a few times but isn’t really a huge problem, to be honest, it’s just the one thing that I think could have made the book a little easier to follow.

I liked how Sandra’s story helped me see what it’s like for transgenders growing up, what they go through during the transformation, the process of creating their new identity and being on hormones. I hope that this story helps to soften the heart of those that have problems with transgender people.

Pages: 234

Left For Dead At Nijmegen

Left for Dead at Nijmegen: The True Story of an American Paratrooper in World War II by [Nannini, Marcus A.]

It’s not every day that we come across a historical work with as much life in it as we see in Left for Dead at Nijmegen: The True Story of an American Paratrooper in WWII. The level of research and attention to detail that went into the retelling of Eugene Metcalfe’s harrowing tale of survival is shown in spades. The reader has no problem understanding not only the physical situations faced by the main character but also the emotions and state of mind.

The author of this incredible story is hard to identify. Marcus A Nannini is certainly the one who organized and wrote the book, but he did such a good job putting it together that you just can’t help but think it is Gene himself telling you his own story. To add to that effect, Nannini puts a lot of focus on Gene’s sense of humor and personality.

The conversations between important members of the SS as well as many other details seem almost too good to be true from a historical perspective. Nannini dutifully constructs images and characteristics of the POW camps that his subject was forced into that were previously unknown. This work, therefore, is as important to historical study of the period as it is a riveting and fascinating tale.

The story starts off with Gene Metcalfe at school and illustrates his departure from his home, family and friends. Looking to do his part, Gene sets off and quickly finds himself shipping off. From the title, the reader knows there is going to be a traumatic event from the get-go, but what transpires afterwards is quite unpredictable. Left for dead, captured, moved from camp to camp, and bearing witness to many horrifying things, it is hard to believe at times that Gene is going to make it. Even more impactful are the ways that Gene gets himself through the atrocities he experiences.

The writing is direct, simple, and honest, relaying the same feeling that you get from the main character. Left for Dead in Nijmegen, written by Marcus A Nannini and published by Casemate, a resounding recommendation to readers of historical novels.

Pages: 256 | ASIN: B07QM86WDW

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My Name Is Bacci Bogie: Frequent Flyer Extraordinaire

My Name Is Bacci Bogie: Frequent Flyer Extraordinaire by [Glosser, Sandra]

My Name is Bacci Bogie, by Sandra Glosser, is a story of travel, of life’s ups and downs, and above all, of love and acceptance. However, unlike many other stories, this one is told from the perspective of a small, but boisterous, Maltese dog.

Bacci tells us the story of his adoption by his doggie mom, Sandra, and their lives together as traveling companions. By accompanying Sandra on her travels as a motivational speaker, Bacci becomes an expert at flying in planes, staying in hotels, and making friends. He gets to live a doggie life full of adventure while bringing joy not only to Sandra’s life, but to many other people’s lives as well. Through Bacci’s own voice we learn about the real love and companionship that is shared between animals and humans.

I think Glosser’s choice to write this book from the perspective of her dog works really well to convey her story in an interesting way. Many pet owners can attest to wondering what their pet is thinking from time to time, and this attempt by the author to reveal her dog’s interpretation of events can appeal to pet lovers everywhere. Even those who are not doggie parents will enjoy hearing about the world from a fresh perspective. By imagining what Bacci is thinking, Glosser reveals her story to us a lighthearted way that is fun to listen to.

While the overall approach to the book is compelling, I think the structure of the story itself could use some fine tuning. Frequently, one anecdote seems to lead into another without much transition, making it hard to follow where one idea ends and another begins. The text is not always divided into chapters in an effective manner, leading me to feel at times like I may have missed something in the plot. In addition, while the stories that Bacci tells are endearing I felt that they were underdeveloped. I think the book would benefit from elaboration on these stories to develop their significance a bit more. Without this, the book at times feels like it is a string of thoughts rather than a fleshed out story.

With that being said, the book is a fairly enjoyable read overall. The author’s message in the preface and epilogue turn what may just be another story into something with a more personal meaning as they reveal the author’s real feelings and motivation for sharing her story with her audience. Grosser’s heartfelt story pays tribute to the life of her beloved pet in a way that is touching to hear.

Pages: 51 | ASIN: B07R9Z76LC

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