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Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: “I Have A Voice” by Tyler Williams Will Help You Find Yours

by SweetMidlife

HI! Lynne here!

We were given a copy of Tyler Williams’ memoir/motivational book “I Have A Voice” to review, and, dude, I can relate.  See, the book is all about  this young man’s journey to find, then value his own expression, and that journey takes him from his days as a child performer, to fronting a band of his young friends, to being a NASCAR driver, to taking acting lessons, back to singing, and now to sharing his story. Now, I have never driven NASCAR, because backing into a parking space is enough of a challenge for me, but I have done a lot of those other things on the list in my life as a performer, and right now, am at the beginnings of my life as the founder and artistic director of a theater. I am having a fantastic time, but my opinions of how things are going can fluctuate a million times within a day, based on how many people bought tickets to our shows, or if someone gives our theater a great review, or if a class isn’t selling like we want it too. Tyler went through a bunch of ups and downs as he found his way, at times completely abandoning what he had loved up to that point, until other things that I won’t spoil for you happened. Read the book. Because I think that no matter if our path is creative, or technical, or whatever -ive or -al it might be, you might have wondered if you should keep going, or if this was even the thing that your heart and soul really wanted. Yes?

Real inspiration!

Real inspiration!

All of this might sound flaky to those of you who are perfectly happy with your jobs or careers,or your hobbies, or your life and have never thought about making a change. It’s not, though, because it isn’t just about a job: it’s about doing something that allows you to use or even find your voice, your expression of who you are.  In his really honest telling of his life story, Tyler talks about being so sure of what he was doing that he knew that he wanted to do it forever…..until it he didn’t because the evidence in front of him told him that maybe he needed to find another dream Or did he?. And this is what I loved the most about this book: It is very relate-able. In the book’s 27 short chapters, Tyler uses his steps and missteps and back again to talk about the inner foundational beliefs about himself, and yourself, dear readers, that you might have to confront and then change if you are really going to find what you should be doing, Sweet Midlife Reader. He gives advice on simple but deep points like not giving up hope, and being okay with questioning what the heck you are doing with your life, to learning that conflict can be good. I found myself taking notes, and underlining things to come back to, and saying “I know that’s right!” out loud. It’s a really clearly written book that will really motivate you.

If I had any critique of “I Have A Voice:, it would be that while the book starts off telling Tyler’s story and accompanying wisdom in a linear fashion, it starts to skip around the timeline a bit as it goes on, which was a bit confusing. There were also points where the advice fet a bit repetitive. and I know that I felt rather Grinch-y saying that it had to many words of motivation, but after awhile some of it were the same words, so maybe they could have been condensed a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed “I Have A Voice”. Again, I am literally in a place right now where I am following a dream that I have had for a long time, and I am using Tyler’s writings as an encouragement to work my dream and my voice. I think they could do the same for you, Seriously.

Disclosure: We were given a copy of “I Have A Voice” for free in return for an honest review, and all opinions are our own. 


Book review: “No Grey Areas” an honest, self-conscious memoir on gambling, lost trust and found faith

by SweetMidlife

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I’m no fan of skipping to the end of books – as a writer I appreciate the intended structure that a work’s creator has built and respect their process. But in a way, the most important passage of Joseph N. Gagliano’s candid, musing “No Grey Areas” is on the 202nd of the memoir’s 204 pages – it’s when Gagliano, a futures trader turned college sports gambling ring masternind, details each of the bad decisions he made that led him from a close-knit Chicago family to two separate stints in Federal prison.

He’s humorously honest throughout the book about times that he should have known better – “I was arrogant, young and stupid; simple as that” – Gagliano writes early on. But there’s something satisfying in this age of proudly conspicuous consumption, of “I got mines!” with no concern for why it’s so important to have yours, to read the perspective of a guy who both wholeheartedly enjoyed the fruits of his ill-gotten gains, while still accepting responsibility for what he did. Even as he details the acts of the friends, relatives and people he knew he should have steered clear of and didn’t, Gagliano is refreshingly blunt about his own short-comings, his own hubris even in situations where past experience should have been a red flag, of the moral choices in which there is, as his title proclaims, no grey area.

The first half of the book follows Gagliano’s rule-bending from his days fixing the squares on Super Bowl betting squares to agreeing, in his early 20s, to fix first one, then two, then three Arizona State University basketball games. The ensuing point-shaving scandal sent several conspirators, including the author, to Federal prison. The explanation of the scam and how it worked does get very specific and technical, perhaps too much so for readers less familiar with sports gambling, legit and otherwise. But it’s necessary, particularly for its presumed audience, to explain those details, and what part each member of the conspiracy plays, from the masterminds, to the players, to the college kids clumsily cluing in casino staff and the Feds with their haphazard betting. There’s a particularly cinematic passage that follows a latter game, one Gagliano knows he shouldn’t be involved in, and his increasing paranoia and nervousness as, one by one, bets start to get flagged.

It’s not a spoiler alert to acknowledge that he winds up in prison – the book jacket says so – but it’s fascinating watching Gagliano recount the steps he took to get there, even as he admits that he should have known. And because of that, he admits that he should have known better than to be involved in events that eventually wind him up in jail a second time, for even longer, surrounding alleged fraud involving loans he took out for a chain of car washes he owned. Even though he maintains that he didn’t deserve that particular charge, he admits, painstakingly, bad choices he made about how to trust and corners cut.

The third act of the book, one that I won’t give away, is about the consequences of both scandals on his family, his finances and his self-worth, and how an unexpected meeting at the lowest point in his life changed him even as he faced prison one more time. The book is incredibly conversational, written by a guy humbled by the things he should have known and didn’t, as well as the things he knew and pretended he didn’t. So many memoirs and first-person essays are full of self-indulgent whining and blame-heaping, so to read about an adult who accepts all of the parts of his life, especially the things he got wrong, is thrilling. “No Grey Areas” may be a sports book, but it’s also a memoir about greed, faith and about what happens when we pretend that truth and right and wrong are negotiable.


You Should Play Outside With Your Kid, and a Really Cool Book Series About That

by SweetMidlife

Lynne here.

I like air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, and TV and my couch all of the time. And I like it sometimes when I can enjoy all of these things and have my kid occupied and happy with the TV, or with his toy keyboard or train track. I even let him ride his tricycle in the house, so he can get activity, and also where I can watch him and stay in the house. With my air conditioning, my TV, and my couch. I am well aware, though, that this isn’t always a good thing, because we aren’t doing things TOGETHER, and some of the best memories that I have had with my son, and shoot, that I have had period, happened outside, be it at the playground, or playing in our backyard in the sand table, or as in my running days, putting feet to pavement and seeing what it do in nature. When my son asks to play outside, which is often, I know that I should be doing more to make that happen for both of us.

So, I have this friend from Facebook, Marni Penning Coleman, who has actually become a friend although we have never met as far as I know. We DO know a bunch of the same people, and have one very good friend in common, and got to know each other in this Facebook group for parents in our area who are part of the local theatre scene. Last summer, Marni asked people if they would be in a test group to read, with their kid, this book that her sister had written, and that Marni illustrated. Add free things and a cool way to do stuff with my kid to the list of things that I like: I said yes. It turns out that the book was the second in a series of interactive books written by, Marni’s sister, Rebecca P. Cohen, called PJ’s Backyard Adventures, about a little boy named PJ who discovers amazing things when he plays outside. The book we read, Play at a Paris Playground, follows PJ as he takes his imagination global. Both books are bunches of crazy crazy fun: You can read the story about the things that PJ finds as he explores, PLUS you can color the pages, PLUS there is a cut-out of PJ that you can play with. Here’s us playing with it (note that our test copy was a printout. The actual book is a paperback. All awesome) …

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Cool, huh? But wait! There’s more! It ALSO turns out that the PJ series is just a part of a whole movement that Rebecca has started called Be Outside and Grow, that encourages folks to get out of their homes and into nature. Again, I need more of this in my life. I got to talk to Rebecca about how getting out is a good thing. And here is some of that conversation…

How did the whole Be Outside and Grow idea start?
Be Outside and Grow is the belief that time outside is good for us. A few years ago, I realized I wasn’t living every day the way I wanted; I was always rushing to spend time inside. Time outside was limited to weekends and rare vacations. As I began to spend more time outside with my children, my family grew closer, we had more fun, and I learned more about myself. Being outside with my kids reduced my stress and allowed me to engage in their sense of curiosity and wonder. I wanted to help more families experience the benefits of fitting in outdoor play into every day. My first book, 15 Minutes Outside is about that journey to get outside with my kids every day and includes low to no-cost ideas for every day of the year. The book is a helpful resource for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers. With my new children’s book series, PJ’s Backyard Adventures, I want to continue to encourage outdoor play in children at a time they are also learning to read. The main character, PJ, is the essence of every child: curious and full of wonder. Children really relate to him, especially in that he loves to wear his pajamas, boots, and fireman’s hat! It’s the type of engaging early reader series I wish I had for my children.
Why can you connect with your kids more outside than you can by staying in the house?
Something magical happens without four walls around you. Each person literally has more space to be themselves. Inside, my two children would bicker constantly. Outside, they were best of friends. Studies have shown that unstructured outdoor playtime reduces aggression and improves cooperation. Everyone has fifteen minutes to step outside – its doable – usually the fun can last an hour or more depending on your schedule or result in child-led creative play where you can sneak off to tackle the next item on your to do list feeling reinvigorated and grateful for having created a precious moment together.
Did the PJ books grow out of the Be Outside and Grow movement, or vice-versa?
PJ’s Backyard Adventures is my version of 15 Minutes Outside for kids, and connects children around the world through outdoor play. Children naturally engage in imaginative outdoor play, but there are many activities competing for their attention. Having needed an early reader series that would engage my family – not just picture books that my children couldn’t read or sight word books that felt like a chore – I created what I thought would have excited my children to read a book. Children can relate to PJ, who uses his imagination in his backyard to travel the world. In each book, PJ travels to a real place outside that kids and parents would love. The latest PJ’s Backyard AdventuresPlay at a Paris Playground, is about the playground in The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. There are eight ways that children can engage with each book, from coloring to finding a hidden Dolch sight word on every page. I’ve read the books to over 500 children ages 2-8 in North America, Europe, and China, and the excitement with PJ is the same. Every type of learner finds something in the book that holds their interest and prompts further curiosity and play, from the seven continents to decorating their own pj’s, hat, and boots and cutting out PJ from the back to take with them on their own outdoor adventures.
Did you know from the beginning that you wanted your sister to do the illustrations?
I had the idea for PJ’s Backyard Adventures for several years before I persisted in finding a publisher and an illustrator. I had a goal to publish the series by the time my nephews were old enough to read it, and time was running out! In my head, I knew exactly what PJ looked like, and I asked my sister Marni Penning Coleman if she would bring PJ to life. A talented actress and graphic designer by trade, Marni drew an entire Winnie the Pooh mural the night before her son’s first birthday. She always liked to draw, but thought her drawings were too “cartoony” – which ended up being perfect for children’s illustrations.
Aren’t sisters the best? (I write with mine so this one is rhetorical. HA!)
With whom else can you have insanely productive one-hour weekly video Skype meetings in your pajamas? And when family life takes over, no one understands better than sisters. I’m enormously impressed with Marni’s ability to illustrate books with a toddler hanging on her most of the time!
What cool stories have you heard from your readers about their adventures?
Most of the coolest stories are about discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary just beyond our doorstep or noticing the nature around us at any moment. Positive reviews and kind personal notes keeps me going. A mom recently wrote to me that she didn’t realize how much time her children really wanted to spend time with her, and they would ask her for fifteen minutes outside together every day. Kids meet PJ and they immediately want to cut him out and take him outside. He is a playmate who understands them in every way. I have wanted every child to find something in PJ’s Backyard Adventures that excites them, and I am in awe of seeing this dream come true.
Lynne again! Rebecca’s books, PJ’s Backyard Adventures :Who Is PJ?, PJ’s Backyard Adventures: Play at a Paris Playground, and Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect With Your Kids are available on Amazon by following those links. And I did receive copies of both PJ books (the Paris one to test and the first one later) but everything that I said about them is absolutely my opinion. They are wonderful books. And encourage us to spend more time outside. And they will do the same for you? Hey, what are your favorite things to do outside with your kids?

 


Book Review: “Stuck In The Passing Lane” by Jed Ringel

by SweetMidlife

by Lynne

Leslie and I have talked a lot about both finding our husbands in our late-30’s, and how Leslie andmarried those dudes the year that we turned 39. What I realize is that I haven’t talked much about HOW I found my husband on eHarmony, and that this was the probably the 4th time I had subscribed to that service, and the many-eth time that I had tried online dating. I wasn’t interested in having an entire relationship online, but I liked the idea of being introduced to people who I would not have met in my regular circles, and who were also looking for a relationship. Through my search, I opened my eyes to people that I may not have considered before, and also found that it was okay to ask for the things that I wanted, and if I didn’t find someone (although I REALLY wanted to), that I would use whatever I learned to make myself who what Pastor and relationship-author Andy Stanley calls “the person that who you are looking for is looking for”. Because you should be that person whether you are looking for someone or not.

Jed Ringel, the author of the new memoir “Stuck In the Passing Lane”, is on a similar search when the book opens. He is a financially successful man in his 50’s who is also the almost-divorced father of 3 teen-aged daughters whom he struggles to maintain a relationship with. The book chronicles his many attempts at finding the right person, through date after funny date after disastrous kinda-relationship, attempts that take him from the New York City-area where he lives to Russia (twice) and Singapore and back. This is a man who literally goes far in the quest for love/companionship/sex. What happens in his journeys, though, is that he finds more than that: he learns a lot about himself. I know that this sounds cliched, and like something out of a Hallmark movie, but it’s more meaningful than that. His story is more than can be scripted. I won’t give away the ending, but the things that Jed finds as he looks for a mate reveal to him things that he didn’t know about himself, things that he knew but didn’t want to admit, and ultimately things that help him realize what he is worth altogether.

I started reading this book a few weeks ago, read about 20 pages, then put it down, partly because other things came up, but also because I wasn’t sure that I liked Jed at first. I don’t think that I had read many memoirs from men that were this open and vulnerable and also kind of explicit- he writes in length about his sexual experiences, and that was a bit too much detail for me personally. But when I went back to the book, I finished it in 2 days, and I found that I really, really was pulling for Jed, not just to find a good woman, but to be okay, and to be happy in a way that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have someone else as a part of that happiness. I felt like I was taking this journey with a new friend. BECAUSE of that openness and honesty, and his willingness to show himself in ways that were sometimes not-so-flattering. You will find yourself saying “Yay!” when he meets someone promising, or gets an email from a daughter who there had been some strain with, and you find yourself yelling “No! Don’t date HER!” like you are yelling at the screen while watching a horror movie when he meets someone questionable, and your heart breaks with his when things don’t quite pan out with people that you and he hoped that they would.

But he keeps going. And that’s what I liked the most about this book, and what I think you might too. There is much to be said for people who hone in on a goal, work for it, and get that thing right away. But that’s not Jed’s story, and it’s not the story of most people I know, including me. Jed’s story is about feeling stuck in his travels, but also about being willing to travel in the first place. It’s about finding what you want, what you won’t put up with, and being open to what happens along the way. The search for the right one starts a journey that leads so many other places. It’s about hope, and we can all use that. I highly recommend “Stuck in the Passing Lane”.


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