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Book Review: My Life with John Steinbeck – An Intriguing Look Into An American Icon’s Life

My Life with John Steinbeck

By Gwyn Steinbeck

Famous American author John Steinbeck was brilliant but troubled. It is well documented that he was a hard-drinking man. My Life With John Steinbeck gives readers an inside look into the man behind the legend. His second wife, Gwyn Steinbeck, professes her lifetime love of John, yet doesn’t pull any punches about his infidelities, drunken rages and controlling behavior. She knew him intimately, but freely admits her book is “but a fragment of John’s life”.

Gwyn was introduced to him in 1938. One of her longtime friends asked her to bring chicken soup to an ailing friend, who ended up being John. Becoming infatuated with Gwyn, he walked into the club she was singing in a few days later. Their life became intertwined over cigarettes and booze, growing into love, marriage and ultimately divorce.

Life with John wasn’t easy. Traveling to Mexico or Paris on a whim was not uncommon. It didn’t matter if Gwyn was pregnant or sick, if John wanted to take a road trip, they got in the car with their Old English Sheepdog and hit the road. Gwen rarely stood up to John. By her writings, he could not tolerate any sickness or disruptions in his life that others might bring. He was not the best father, in fact, Gwyn states more than once how he basically ignored his second son. She tolerated John’s moods and quirks until 1948 when she told him she would always love him but wanted a divorce.

Gwyn gives us a peek behind the scenes of one of the most famous American authors, living or dead. The little-known facts, such as which films made from his books that he loved and which ones he hated. His friends included many A-List stars and authors. It was intriguing to read about his war correspondent years as well as his writing process. I have not read all of his books, but Grapes of Wrath will always be one of my all-time favorite books.

My Life with John Steinbeck is a very interesting biography that reads like a novel. Of course, it is written from one person’s perspective, but the intimacy of Gwyn and John’s life brings depth to the story like no one else could. It is entertaining and enlightening. It has inspired me to read more of his books and perhaps catch one or two is his movies.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. https://reedsy.com/discovery/ Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Ghost Photographer – Cosmic Journey of Self Discovery

The Ghost Photographer A Hollywood Executive Discovers the Real World of Make-Believe

By Julie Riuger

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

The Ghost Photographer takes the reader along on Julie Rieger’s cosmic course of self-discovery. Her journey of is not always an easy choice, but she jumps in with both feet willing to take the ride wherever it takes her. But her newly found psychic powers allow her to be at peace with herself and others. Isn’t that about all anyone can ask for?

Julie is often bawdy, funny and willing to share both the good and bad parts of her life with her readers. She explores the reason for her grief, but realizes grief comes to others in different forms that are just as devastating as the loss of her mother was to her. She knows she needs to dig deeper to figure out the person she will be now that she is really on her own for the first time in her life.

Her journey begins when she discovers pictures of ghosts in photographs she has taken. (The pictures are included at the end of the book for you to decide for yourself). She works to develop her psychic gifts with close friends who have clairvoyant abilities. She also references famous people who were prophetic, second-sighted and/or were precognitive. They include Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to name a few.

The thing that may surprise readers about Julie is her reliance on religion throughout her journey. She repeats how often she uses the power of prayer to protect herself and others from evil spirits. It should not surprise us that good and evil go hand in hand, and protecting yourself with a higher power is often necessary when delving into the unknown. There are a few things that might give you goose bumps. The chapter about “Old Scratch”, whom the Bible says is a stand in for the devil, is pretty creepy.

This is a very interesting, funny and thought provoking book. It is fast to read and full of things that you may or may not believe could ever happen. If so, take it at face value for your entertainment. That is okay, it is Julie’s journey to document and share. If you are a fan of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert or Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Sheryl Strayed you need to read this book. Journey and self-discovery comes to different people in different ways, each of them unique and interesting to read about.

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Book Review: Irena’s Children, Young Readers Edition – True Story of Courage

irenas-childrenIrena’s Children

Young Readers Edition

By Tilar J. Mazzeo

Adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Tilar J. Mazzeo tells the true story of Irena Sendler. A woman who risked everything to save Jewish children she didn’t even know from the brutality of the Nazi’s in Poland during WWII. The things she saw happening around her frightened her, but she also became angry. She joined others in secret meetings that grew into a network of brave people that helped save hundreds of infants and children from certain death.

The brutalities and atrocities of the Nazi invasion of Poland have been widely documented. This book takes the reader into the burning buildings, the disease infested ghettos and in the brutal prisons of Poland. Irena and her group of brave, everyday heroes suffered greatly for their acts. Some lost their lives, some were arrested and tortured and others lost everything they had, but all of them worked tirelessly to save just one more child every moment of every day.

Through it all, Irena encouraged, helped and understood when others didn’t have the energy to go on. She kept lists of the children so that one day they could possibly be reunited with their families. If that wasn’t possible at least they would know their names and Jewish heritage and the love and sacrifice of the families that hid them and raised them as their own.

Irena lived through all of the danger, uncertainty and brutality she suffered to be reunited with some of “her children” in the 1980’s. She died peacefully in 2008 at the age of 98. Countless survived because of Irena and the network of others devoted to Irena’s children no matter what the cost.

This book was an amazing story of triumph over one of the worst things that happened in world history. It is told in story form with information from archives, historical sources, Tilar Mazzeo’s personal knowledge, personal interviews, historical photos (many included), maps, books and Mazzeo’s original book.

I absolutely enjoyed this book from the standpoint of history, WWII and the courage of people bringing hope to the youngest members of a nation in situations that seemed hopeless. It is not easy to read about the torture, pain and death of the group of innocent people. But not reading about it doesn’t make it go away. It is a painful part of history that needs never to be forgotten.

This is the young reader edition, based upon Mazzeo’s original book, and has been adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell. There is no way to “tone down” the events discussed in the book. The language may be an easier form for young readers, but it is still about a time a group of people were singled out and methodically murdered, maimed and tortured just because they were Jewish. It was a scary and difficult time for adults and children alike.

If they are interested in history, I would highly recommend Irena’s Children. They may have questions that would require further discussion. Adults should read this also. While it is the story of undeniable horrors, it is the story of hope and the triumph of human spirit that encourages all of us to help one another and to make the world a better place no matter who we are or where we live. Everyone can help in his or her way.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

 

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