As the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, a young farm boy sits at the front of a boat as lookout, in the year 1758. A man from Sicily steps off a ship and finds himself in the bustling Hamilton Harbour as he looks for work, in the year 1835. Finally, a man from Dublin looking to make his fortune finds himself tossed out of a bar on Barton Street, in 1885. These are the seeds that Holton plants to begin the intricate intertwining of stories throughout the book. Trillium sees these three characters, with three vastly different backgrounds, struggle to make a home in Canada, and follows their legacies as their memory lives on through their descendents.
The book connects with the history, not only of Canada, but of the world. It draws upon various historic events, including both world wars, as its context. This grounds it in the real world and gives it a universal sense of what we all strive for in much the same way as the three families – a home. As generations pass, they seem to take a firmer grasp on the land they live on and become part of the history themselves. As such their progress fits well with the underlying rural theme that the chapters take, such as roots, growing vines, and the grape harvest. The book seems to create a family tree, which intertwines with the other family trees in the book, as they grow.
The reader is plunged into a world shaped by conquest. The characters in the book encounter wars, displacement and enterprise, all of which are constantly shaping the landscapes. Each character tries to find their place in this world of uncertainty. Throughout the generations, they all have a hope to find their way in a changing world and to settle down somewhere – to carve out their own patch of land to call their home.
Holton brings this world to life with poetic prose. As the book spans literally centuries, the passage of time is very clear in its writing. The natural setting is gorgeously described through the changing of the seasons, right down to the colors of the leaves. The natural Canadian landscape appears utopian when set in the foreground against the chaos of the world wars or the bustle of a city harbour or the noise of a railway being built. This contrast is eloquently drawn in the prose, especially when WWII hits the novel, where, though the characters have deep personal ties to the war, daily events in the book still transpire on a humble peach farm in Ontario.
I give this book a four out five for its awe-inspiring approach to the natural world and everyone’s place in it as we carve our path in the landscape through agriculture, enterprise, and even war. I cannot recommend this book enough. The stories connect beautifully and get to the heart of what it means to have a place to call home.
Pages: 340 | ASIN: 0992127289
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Beguiled follows young Miriam as she struggles to follow her dreams through a turbulent time in history. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Initially, I had the idea to write a story of the kind of life my mother, born in 1910, might have had, if she’d had the gumption. Which she did not, so the story of Miriam Levine, 1st generation Russian-Jewish girl, is entirely fictional. There are a few biographical markers, e.g., Miriam’s Pop was active in the leftist-unionist organization called the Workmen’s Circle. My maternal grandfather was as well. Similarly, he was a cultured fellow, albeit not formally educated, and introduced my mother to cultural events from a young age. The character Miriam developed her aspirations to go on stage from the experiences her Pop exposed her to from a young age.
The story transformed itself immediately from anything biographical to an exciting adventure of Miriam and her girlfriends as they make their way through a difficult time in history punctuated by WWI, the “Spanish” flu, women’s getting the vote, the Roaring 20s, the relationship between young people and their immigrant parents, and the status of women.
Miriam is a well developed character that I grew attached to. How did you capture the thoughts and emotions of a young woman in the 1900’s?
Research, research, and more research helped me to describe a girl of the early 1900s. I read many books about the times, including novels of women of that period.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve been a psychotherapist and life coach all my adult life, so am accustomed to hearing people’s stories and helping them to make sense of their lives. So, the emotions of a woman of this period seemed little different to me from my clients’ stories. Yes, women have approached the glass ceiling and many are in marriages that are fundamentally equal or mutually enhancing, but with the outing of many in the MeToo movement, it’s clear that women’s place has not appreciably changed vis a vis powerful men.
I liked how the politics and drama of the time was not front and center, but served as a backdrop to Miriam’s story. Did you do any research for this story to keep things accurate?
As stated above, I pored over many historical books of this period, as well as historical novels about the early 1900s. Having been in graduate school for a PhD back in the 1980s, I learned how to do research and to enjoy it. I was not, however, a big history buff, so my becoming absorbed in this research was a surprise to me. One funny thing: in one of my last drafts, I realized that NO character ever was described as smoking. So, I had to go back and add smoking Lucky Strikes, Camels, pipes, and cigars to many scenes.
WWI was certainly in the background only in Beguiled. Miriam and her friends barely seemed to register that there was a world war going on in Europe, until Miriam arrives home and discovers that her father’s Workmen’s Circle is having an important emergency meeting to discuss US entry into the War. Then a young German boy barges in to say that his family was beaten bloody right in their neighborhood, an unthinkable thing in their multi-ethnic close community.
Many people have suggested I write a sequel to Beguiled, but that would take me into the Depression of the 1930s and I don’t know if I want to go there, particularly since our country seems liable to get there itself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Beguiled was just released on May 1st 2018, so I’m devoting some time to publicizing it before embarking on my next story. But, I’ve had the idea of locating an appealing news story of a woman who lived in another era. I enjoy researching historical fiction and being an archaeologist in searching out details of a bygone period. In order to find this appealing person, I’ll need to immerse myself in the Boston Public Library’s newspapers from the last century or even before. There are also archives of women’s letters housed at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, where I’ve done research before. I look forward to being able to do this, once my initial marketing campaign is over.
Beguiled is about every person who ever had dreams that were interrupted by cultural mores, by discrimination, or by their own shortcomings. Miriam Levine, born in 1900, dreamed of going on stage, until an almost fatal mis-step forced her to postpone her “real life.” A serendipitous offer compelled her to confront her inner demons and society’s expectations. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the Wizard of Oz, she recites at age 16: “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”
The story is inspirational for young people and their parents who dearly wish to access the American dream. The historical context of the decades before the Great Depression, the role of immigrants and women’s suffrage parallels tough political dilemmas that the US faces today.
Will Miriam have the gumption to follow her dreams? Will those dreams yield her the happiness she seeks? Or will she find that her childhood fantasies “beguile” her to seek ‘fool’s gold?’
Posted in Interviews
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Life is more difficult now than it was a few years ago. More and more people have to work multiple jobs just to stay above water. Utilities cost more than they used to and money is losing value. By the time one receives their salary, it’s already spent. With high trade deficits and national debts, people have much less purchasing power. What is happening now that was not happening before? How have we gotten to this point? What conversations do we need to have to change things? How can there be more employment opportunities? How can the citizens live to work as opposed to working to live?
Alex Gall has produced a well-written account of everything people should be saying but will not. The language used in the book is strong but not abrasive and drives the point home effectively and firmly. The authors passion and commitment to the subject matter is commendable and infectious. I consider myself to be an average citizen, I read the occasional hot headline. But this book made me look a little further, and a little deeper, and find something that was shocking and appealed to the citizen in me. This book is delivered from the point of view of a concerned citizen painting a picture, a person who is inviting others to a well thought out and open conversation.
I would appreciated more references of source material because, as stated previously, this book will leave you digging for more information and getting more involved in politics. Some statistics or studies to back up the subject matter would have been appreciated. This book is well researched and is laid out in an easy to follow manner in a compact and readily available format. At times I felt the content a bit dense, or maybe the topics overwhelming. I had to put the book down and think about what I just read. This book certainly causes one to reflect. But once you come out of your reflection, once you put the book down, you will come away with an overriding need to do something.
There are some sensitive topics covered but the author uses a neutral approach which is inviting. His approach to the subjects is completely ‘take it or leave it’. This is one of the best qualities of this book. The fact that the author lays out his position without dragging people with him. The intensity of the book and the truth in the subject matter will carry you effortlessly.
This book does a fantastic job of starting a serious and necessary conversation. This is necessary for anyone who wants to be an informed citizen.
Pages: 260 | ASIN: B079YP7LGM
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A chance encounter in the park leads Yianni to develop a relationship with a family similar to the one in which he grew up and in need of the same love, unconditional support, and unfailing guidance provided him by his grandmother once upon a time. His recurring meetings with little Christina, her parents, grandmother, and brothers reveal more interesting and, sometimes, amazing coincidences between their family and his own. Eager to share the stories of his youth and finding more reasons all the time to reveal his most troubling and painful secrets, Yianni begins to save his newfound family while he saves himself in the process.
Right out of the gate, JohneEgreek strikes a powerful chord in Grandma’s Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist with his emotional reaction to his first encounter with three-year-old Christina. Yianni is clearly missing a piece of his heart due to the strained relationship with his son. The fact that he has never met his young granddaughter, Aubrey Rose, eats away at his soul, and the warm reaction he feels from Christina’s mother and brothers begins to fill that tremendous void. It is difficult to read without becoming overwhelmed with emotion at Yianni’s thoughtful reflections upon each of their storytelling sessions.
There exists an entire demographic of readers who will relate to Yianni’s description of his childhood. The abuse and unrelenting savagery with which his father throws his way from a tender age is unbelievably horrific. To find that Yianni is able to grow, thrive, and find a way to cope with his past is truly amazing. His story gives readers hope and provides them with a virtual shoulder on which to lean as they battle their own childhood demons.
Yianni’s grandmother, the basis for his strength, is a phenomenal woman indeed. She provides young Yianni with all the love and protection he needs once he loses his grandfather, his idol. The advice flows freely from her day after day, and she builds Yianni’s self-esteem when his father has beaten him down. Her words alone are enough to heal Yianni’s spirit.
The regular meetings Yianni has with Christina’s family are fascinating to say the least. I was stunned at the coincidences he discovered week after week between his own lineage and theirs. I felt as though the story was leading to an aha moment in which a secret relationship was revealed–that’s how coincidental and numerous the connections are. Story after story, Yianni builds a life with Christina and her parents–even her reluctant father, Ray. I have to say, I was more than pleased to see the final turn of events involving Ray and Yianni.
I give Grandma’s Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist by JohneEgreek 5 out of 5 stars. To have so freely opened his life to the eyes and ears of the world is an admirable thing indeed. The years he spent being abused by his father and the time he spent living as the one sibling his father refused to love shaped JohneEgreek into a man who can heal others with his own stories.
Pages: 316 | ASIN: B077PLR98B
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Florence Grende’s parents survived the Holocaust and managed to settle in New York City to provide a new life for their children. The horrors of their past, however, never leave them and infiltrate every aspect of their lives in the United States. Florence, their daughter, grows up watching her parents keep their demons at bay as she learns as much about her family’s haunting past as she learns about herself. Grende’s questions about her mother’s outbursts and her father’s deep, dark sadness lead her to answers she is afraid she already knows but is not willing to admit.
The Butcher’s Daughter is Florence Grende’s own recollection of her life in New York City and her struggle to come to terms with her parents’ own battle with the memories of their lives in Germany during the Holocaust. Grende’s memoir is written in a unique and gripping style. Her words flow from page to page in the most poetic fashion with emphasis placed on short, striking bits of text highlighting especially difficult memories.
Grende pulls her memoir together with short chapters, each focusing on specific situations, distinct memories, and her own analyses of events from her childhood and teenage years. I looked for the memoir style to follow a sequential order but, in Grende’s case, the random scattering of memories and the jumps she makes from one time period backwards and then forward again works well. Her own confusion and the turbulence dictating her life as a result of her family’s past is reflected effectively in the style of writing chosen by the author. Short bursts of memories are easy to read, engaging, and incite the reader’s curiosity.
It is not often readers are afforded a look into the author’s own experiences. Grende gives readers a particularly vivid picture of the trauma and the lasting impact the Holocaust had on the ensuing generations. Her father’s behavior and neediness are sad in a way I find it almost impossible to describe. She underscores the way he seems to emotionally cling to her in a markedly poetic chapter in the second of the book’s three sections. Never is her father’s tragic past more clearly defined than in his sadness and desperation at losing her to her new husband.
Closure being the goal for Florence Grende, I felt relief for her as she details her journey for answers and the meeting which brings her face to face with people on all sides of the Holocaust. Her writing experience begins with her trip to Berlin and the diary that starts it all. I felt the tension as I read of Grende’s meetings with fellow survivors and descendants of Nazis. The horror stories flow, and Grende, at last, shares her own with those who can, not only relate, but wish for the same closure as the author herself. Grende writes of these meetings with raw emotion and does more to help readers absorb the truth of history than is ever possible with any textbook.
Florence Grende has bared her soul and shown readers a perspective on history that most of us will never fully grasp. She walks readers eloquently through a minefield of emotions and tackles the savagery of the Holocaust with truth, directness, and poetic prose.
Pages: 148 | ASIN: B01M751TN4
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“Grandma’s Secret Blessings” A Memoir with a Twist, written By JohnEGreek
Take a ride with JohnEgreek as he journeys to the Old Country to fulfill a childhood promise made to his grandparents when he was six years old. His grandmother, insightful and deeply spiritual guides him throughout his lifetime and after she is gone, as he himself opens to the reality of something higher than himself.
Second-generation Greek-American born, Author JohnEgreek, is brought into this world in 950 to a broken family. His father hates him from the very first day he is born and lives up to the unseen contract to hate him his entire life, without ever giving him a clue as to why. His mother showers him with her love, until her eventual death at the early age of fifty-one, which then forces him to grow on his own.
The powerful childhood promise becomes the avenue that opens his heart and awakens his soul. Grandma, who leaves the physical world when he is in his teens, enlightens him while she is alive and never stops enlightening him when she goes beyond, as she continues to shower him with her many “Secret Blessings.”
What happens along the way is a surreal journey and a deeply rooted experience? Travel with him and his pseudo family, as they discover the avenue to his soul and the recipe to Grandma’s Secret Blessings. You too can find the key that unlocks the door to the hidden ability to “transcend and go beyond.”
This book is for anyone teetering on the edge of disbelief that there is something higher than their greatest expectations as to why things happen. Everyone at some time or another will lose a loved one, but death is not the end, it is the beginning and they do find a way to speak to you from beyond. Make no mistake, this book will open your eyes as you discover the magical recipe to Grandma’s Secret Blessings and you too can use them to heal your heart and find the avenue to your soul.
The author recognizes that he is no one special, just a retired senior citizen, with a strained relationship with his adult children and a grandchild that he has never met. He has a unique and creative way to tell the emotional story about his life that will take you on a roller-coaster ride that will emit feelings of anger, guilt, fear, sorrow and pain. At times, it will be an agonizing, yet truthful story. During the unforgettable journey to the Old Country he has multiple synchronistic events where he finds the hidden secrets that provide him with the necessary elements to set himself free, heal his wounded children and unlock the door to his heart. You too can “Transcend and Go Beyond.”
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Lyuda was a lovely seventeen-year old girl with a potentially bright future. This was until she met Vova and the course of her life changed forever. Later, Vova would leave her orphaned and with a baby to care for. She was in pain and alone but she had a child. This meant she could not cry openly. Therefore, she tried to find momentary happiness at the bottom of a glass of Samohon.
Angela is a happy child. She is blissfully unaware of the harsh realities of life. She often wanders in her imagination without a care in the world. What does a seven-year-old girl have to worry about anyway? One day her night spirit appeared and warned her of an impending darkness. She did not understand this but the meaning soon became apparent. With the help of her grandmother, she embarks on a mission to make her mother happy again. Her mother needs to be reminded of the joy she derives from having Angela in her life. When all is said and done, Angela can finally grow up without being held back by her mother’s past. She can move on out of the dark envelope that is her mother’s mistakes.
Leonora Meriel successfully evokes intense emotion with this book. It is so sad and devastating to watch a child wish to be happy but hold themselves back to cater to their parent. She writes with vivid clarity and details the excruciating struggles Lyuda goes through. The author’s description of the Ukrainian countryside transports the reader to Lyuda’s little house with the lilacs outside. The Woman Behind the Waterfall is a good book about a mother’s desire to maintain her sanity. Not for her own sake but for the sake of her child.
Not enough stories explain, in heart wrenching detail, the struggle that mothers go through. Especially single mothers. This novel, to me, was told with an air of reverence. I’m always looking for books that take me beyond the words and transports me into new characters with interesting stories to tell. What you’ll find here is a story about people and passion and the moments that test both of them.
This book will leave you in tears. The story will ignite an urge to hug your mother and express appreciation for all the times she gave up her own life for yours.
Pages: 264 | ASIN: B01M078MOF
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Proud American is a biography about your journey through life in South Texas; from migrant worker to US solider and then US Border Patrol agent. What was the inspiration behind creating such a thoughtful memoir of your life?
My mother passed away in the summer of 2015. After her passing, I fell into a depression because I felt truly alone in the world. Being the only child of a single parent can do that to a person. I had my wife and kids with me but I still felt utterly alone, and I couldn’t shake it off.
My wife kept pushing me to discuss my thoughts and feelings, but I could not muster up the strength. I didn’t know how to discuss what I was experiencing. My wife suggested that I write my feelings down. For years, my wife has been telling me that she believes I’m a good writer. For years, I’ve been ignoring her compliments.
One night after dinner, she brought a letter to me. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to open it. When I did, I saw that it was a letter I had written to her eight years ago. Eight years ago was when my wife and I first started dating, and one night she asked me over the phone, why I had joined the Army. I wrote her a letter and poured everything out on paper. It opened up the floodgates for me. That letter is now the first chapter of my book.
Do you remember what your idea of ‘America’ was as a child?
Because I began working at the age of seven, my idea of ‘America’ was that of tough living. It is hard for one to realize so young that his or her childhood is nothing like that of other kids. We were dirt poor and I had the full workload of an adult at the age of ten.
In time though, everything around me was a constant reminder of what else was possible in ‘America’. I knew there were better ways to make a living. At such a young age, I wanted to learn how to pursue my thoughts or dreams of a better life. I didn’t have time to dream of the next best toy or fun activity. I spent all my childhood dreaming and thinking of how to break my family cycle of picking crops for a living.
How did your outlook of ‘America’ change after your time in the US Army?
I must say that in many ways, the Army actually spoiled me. Although it increased my awareness of the harshness of life and the many challenges that it can impose on a person, it also continued to show me all the many possibilities available should one choose to work hard to achieve a desired goal. This only enhanced what I already believed as a kid. More so, I also learned of all the harsh realities of life and how people in other countries are in a far worse state than most of us here can ever possibly imagine or understand. I knew, after my military service, that we lived in the greatest country in the world. Even with all our faults and deficiencies, there is no comparison.
Being the son of a Mexican immigrant, was it hard for you to decide to become an agent in the US Border Patrol?
My decision to join the US Border Patrol was actually a fairly easy one. I was looking for something that would allow me to continue my government service. It’s important to note that my grandfather had never talked to us about his encounters with the US Border Patrol and thus played no role in my decision.
It wasn’t until after I had become an agent that I realized how my decision had impacted the entire family. It was a strange feeling and continues to be a delicate subject since I still have family that lives in Mexico and have not been able to visit them because of the dangers a visit from me would pose on them and even on me. With the violent cartel threat just across the border, it will be years before I can see my family again.
What is one stereotype that you think many Americans have of Mexican immigrants?
At this point in time, immigration has become a great issue for our country. With that said, the moment one begins to speak about immigration it is quickly considered to be a topic of Mexican immigrants and the ‘negative’ impact they have on our society.
I am an American Citizen by birth, but I do come from a Mexican Immigrant family and am now a Border Patrol Agent. I have to deal with criminals from every background one can possibly think of. As a federal agent, I don’t merely deal with immigration issues. I also deal with the issue of human trafficking and narcotics trafficking. In essence, I’m caught in the middle of the transaction.
I say this because in any transaction, there is a person providing a product and a person purchasing or demanding that product. I have to process undocumented individuals for deportation while at the same time prosecute the US Citizens that are committing the trafficking.
What role do you feel Mexican-Americans play in bridging the gap between these two countries?
I think we must all play the role of actual educators by way of providing facts and not opinions or emotional outbursts. I wrote a story in the book of an incident that happened to me while on the job as a Border Patrol Agent. The gentleman I encountered truly believed that he was above me simply because of my appearance and name tag. I chose to educate him and not escalate the situation with an emotional outburst. After that interaction, I earned the gentleman’s respect and he earned mine by showing me that he had learned the error in his thinking.
I’m a combat veteran who now has to deport people of my own Mexican Nationality because I have chosen to continue serving my country, the United States of America. And yet, I still have to educate people every single day of my patriotism and the struggles I’ve had to overcome in order to achieve the stability I now have.
Education is key.
“Being the only child of a single mother, Sergio was raised by his maternal grandparents in a South Texas region better known as the Rio Grande Valley. This memoir details the upbringing of a poor Migrant worker of Mexican descent having to pick crops for a living since the age of seven. As a way to break from the family cycle of picking crops and depending on government welfare programs, he joined the United States Army and served ten years active duty. He deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly after the Bosnian War only to find and deal with the aftermath of the genocide that took place there and be caught in the middle of several attacks. His experiences in Bosnia ultimately led to experiencing signs and symptoms related to PTSD. After completing ten years of military service, Sergio joined the U.S. Border Patrol. Being of Mexican descent, having family in south Texas, and in Mexico gave way to new issues of having to counter threats against his family and ill-willed opinions of him for arresting and deporting “his own kind.””
Posted in Interviews
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