Sunday, July 24, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: “Trying To Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel” By Nicolaia Rips

From the inside book jacket:

Part Eloise, part The Grand Budapest Hotel, part early David Sedaris, a seventeen-year-old's darkly funny, bighearted memoir about growing up in a legendary New York City hotel.

New York's Chelsea Hotel may no longer be home to its most famous denizens...but the eccentric spirit of the Chelsea is alive and well. Meet the family Rips: father Michael, a lawyer turned writer with a penchant for fine tailoring; mother Sheila, a former model and renowned artist who matches her welding outfits with couture; and daughter Nicolaia, a precocious high school senior working on a record of her peculiar seventeen years.

Nicolaia is a perpetual outsider who has struggled to find her place in schools populated by cliquish girls and loudmouthed boys. But at the Chelsea, Nicolaia need not look far to find her tribe. The kids at school might never understand her, but as Nicolaia endeavors to fit in, she begins to understand that the Chelsea's motley crew could hold the key to surviving the perils of a Manhattan childhood.

I work in a library, and when I saw Trying to Float by Nicolaia Rips on the shelf with the rest of our new releases, its cover adorned with adorable young photos of the author, I couldn't help but pick it up. Then I read the synopsis on the inside of the book jacket and it was so bizarre – and yet so terribly interesting – that I just knew I had to read this book! Believe me when I say that I am so glad I did.

Nicolaia Rips is the only child of two very unconventional, creatively-minded parents; father Michael is a lawyer-turned-writer, and mother, Sheila, is a former model and celebrated artist. Her first real friends are the equally unconventional fellow residents of the Hotel Chelsea, which includes Artie, proprietor of New York's most famous nightclubs, and the androgynous Storme', who keeps a pink handgun strapped to her ankle. As early as preschool Nicolaia struggles to fit in and make friends; a near-tragedy involving Nicolaia during a birthday party in kindergarten earns her a reputation that follows her straight through junior high school and doesn't make it any easier for her classmates understand her. Her entire student career is a myriad of misunderstanding and struggle until that last day of junior high when, at last, it all starts to make sense.

What makes this book a triumph for me is a combination of things. First off, the author – despite being just seventeen – has a writing style that hooks the reader's interest from the first sentence until the very last one. Her witty tone and self-depreciation, combined with the particular selection of anecdotes that she chose to share (one can't help but wonder what ended up being left out) makes this one memoir that no reader should miss out on! What's more, the essential theme of this book is acceptance – a child looking for acceptance from her parents, her teachers, her peers – and that is something that anyone is able to relate to, no matter where you grew up.

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel by Nicolaia Rips is available on Amazon.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Interview with Carla Ulbrich: Singer/Songwriter/Professional Smart Aleck

"Runnin' Down a Dream" is continuing a love of local music (1 and 2). Over at DonSmithWrites, there's an interview up on the "Conversations for the Better" page.

Singer/Songwriter Carla Ulbrich stopped by and talked songwriting, humor and comedy.  Check it out and enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Six To Eight Mathematics Rocked Clash Bar in Clifton on June 24th

L to R: Ali McDowell, lead guitarist; Alana Quartuccio, lead singer; Dan Peacock, drummer & former Hollywood Stuntman; and Mary Beth Kochmar, bassist.

Remember last week when Runnin' Down a Dream's interviewed our buddies Six To Eight Mathematics?  

And remember, the amazing story of how Alana Quartuccio, the lead singer, had a tumor removed which resulted in her losing her voice and hearing in one ear?  

And remember how the band - Ali McDowell, guitarist; Mary Beth Kochmar, bassist; and drummer Dan Peacock - talked about sticking it out during Alana's recovery?  

And, finally, remember how Six To Eight was making a comeback by headlining a local show here in New Jersey on June 24 at the Clash Bar in Clifton, New Jersey?  

How did it go?  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Six To Eight Mathematics to Headline Concert at Clash Bar, June 24th

Image Courtesy of Six to Eight Mathematics.
I am sure it is known that many musicians - whether they be fine, classical, poppy or jazzy - call New Jersey their home. 

However, there are some bands that just plain kick the teeth out of music and take no prisoners! And one of those bands is the North Jersey based punk band - Six to Eight Mathematics! 

Six to Eight, as they are known to friends and fans, has been around since 2004. The band has two CDs available on CD Baby - High Heels, Whiskey & Mayhem and Mental Melodies (click on the links to pick 'em up!). 

I was able to sit down with them back in May to promote an upcoming show on June 24th, at the Clash Bar in Clifton, New Jersey. Six to Eight will headline the DIY Radio Presents Concert. They concert will feature many amazing bands and begins right at 8:30 pm.

I had been following them since 2011 and I saw them live in 2015 (see pictures below)! It is amazing to see real music on a real stage on a local level that is not some cheap cover band! Their name comes up from time to time in punk circles here in New Jersey and - wow! - everyone agrees - this is the band that takes the stage, puts on a show and leaves 'em wantin' more!

Image courtesy of Six to Eight Mathematics.

Since 2014, their current line up, which has featured Alana Quartuccio the lead singer and rhythm guitarist; Ali McDowell, lead guitarist and backing vocalist; Mary Beth Kochmar, bass guitarist and Dan Peacock, drummer.

And when I sat down to talk with the quartet, they discussed it had been a year of challenges! However, it was challenges they overcame and June 24th will be their first back! 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book Review: “The Pug List” by Alison Hodgson

Synopsis from the back cover:

“What if a wheezing, sneezing, allegedly house-trained, ticking time bomb of an orphan pug is the key to helping a family feel at home again, after an arsonist set their house—and life—on fire? If you asked me, I would have said it’s a bad idea; we can do better. Unfortunately no one asked me, and The Pug List is my family’s story.”

In the fire’s aftermath of insurance battles royal, rebuilding plans, parenting in the face of life’s hard questions and a scorching case of post-traumatic stress, now is absolutely the worst possible time to adopt a dog. But to Alison’s seven-year-old daughter, Eden, it’s the perfect time—and The Relentless Campaign begins.

Until one day Alison peeks inside Eden’s diary—dubbed “The Pug List”—and realizes in one fell swoop that her girl’s heart is on the line, and resistance is futile (“The pugs make me happy FOREVER.”).

Enter “Outrageous” Oliver, and the hilarity, healing, and irresistible hope that follows.

The story of a family who loses their home and almost every material possession they own after an arsonist burns their house down should not sound like something any reader would enjoy. Yet enjoy this book was exactly what I did! While the Hodgson family did suffer through this very tragedy, the story isn't really about the fire itself but rather how each member of the family – wife and mother Alison, husband and father Paul, and their kids Christopher, Lydia, and Eden – travels the emotional journey to grieve for what they’ve lost and eventually come to terms with this tragedy that has beset their lives and start rebuilding their lives. Each person learns to cope in different ways, but what finally brings them all together is one absolutely ridiculous little black pug dog named Oliver – or "Outrageous Oliver," the moniker his breeder / foster mom has given him. Oliver's appearance in the Hodgson family's lives is what finally shows them how to begin enjoying life again and get themselves back to some semblance of a new normal.

At the risk of repeating myself, I really did enjoy this book; while the sadness and tragedy of this true story – every family’s worst nightmare, I think – is palpable throughout, the way that the Hodgson family learns to lean on their Christian faith to get through the fire and its aftermath – and how that faith then grows in the process – is something that every Christian can appreciate and ultimately relate to. What’s more, Alison Hodgson’s writing is also raw, honest, and uncensored, which is something I, as a fellow writer, can appreciate, and that readers will appreciate as well. She doesn’t cut corners or leave out the gory details, she puts everyone’s humanity out there for the world to see, which is something I find admirable in an author – and something that makes this a Really Good Book.

That said, my only disappointments with this book were that, for one, I expected Oliver’s appearance to happen much earlier in the story; Hodgson doesn’t actually get to him until more than halfway through the book. But once “Outrageous Oliver” is finally a part of the story, he’s there to stay, and readers won’t be able to get enough of him. I instantly fell in love that “ridiculous little dog” and how he becomes a cherished member of the Hodgson family.

So if you’re a person of faith, a dog lover, or if you just want to read a story with a great happy ending, “The Pug List” is for you! Find your copy on Amazon today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of "The Pug List" free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: “I Work at a Public Library” By Gina Sheridan

A Cold War spy in desperate search of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Cuckoo Carol dumpster diving for cans...again, and the inevitable fact that one day, somewhere, human excrement will end up on the floor. Maybe you expect these kinds of things to happen on, say, reality TV, but you never expect this to happen in your local library. However, as any public librarian will tell you, happen they do! (Taken from the Introduction of the book)

I am a book nerd who also works in a library – which can be both a blessing and a curse sometimes, thanks mostly to the often colorful characters – er, patrons – that walk through our doors. So when I heard about a book called I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan, there was no question; I had to read this! I checked out a copy from the library (of course) and began to read...and within moments I was laughing my head off – and shaking my head at how relevant these stories were to myself and my coworkers. After all, to anyone who thinks librarians just sit behind a desk all day checking books in and out and telling people to be quiet, well you really must think again!

As a librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, author and blogger Gina Sheridan began keeping a notebook and writing down the the various oddities that she encountered because they were too juicy not to be documented! Running the gamut from completely bizarre reference questions and annoyingly ignorant patrons to precocious kids and an eccentric Dumpster-diving regular nicknamed Cuckoo Carol, this little book is full of treasures that every library worker across the globe can easily relate to! And what's really great is that at an easily digestible 152 pages, you will be able to polish off this little book in less than an hour – of course, once you start reading you won't be able to stop anyway, because each anecdote is even better than the next!
Me: Good morning!
Patron: It's always nice to see your smiling face. You must be on the good drugs.

Learn more about author Gina Sheridan at her website and on her blog, and find your own copy of I Work at a Public Library on Amazon

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review – “My Name is Mahtob” by Mahtob Mahmoody

Two decades ago, millions of readers worldwide thrilled to the story told in the international bestseller Not Without My Daughter—subsequently made into a film starring Sally Field—that told of an American mother and her six-year-old child’s daring escape from an abusive and tyrannical Iranian husband and father. Now the daughter returns to tell the whole story, not only of that imprisonment and escape but of life after fleeing Tehran: living in fear of re-abduction, enduring recurring nightmares and panic attacks, attending school under a false name, battling life-threatening illness—all under the menacing shadow of her father.
 This is the story of an extraordinary young woman’s triumph over life-crushing trauma to build a life of peace and forgiveness. Taking readers from Michigan to Iran and from Ankara, Turkey, to Paris, France, My Name Is Mahtob depicts the profound resilience of a wounded soul healed by faith in God’s goodness and in his care and love. And Mahmoody reveals the secret of how she liberated herself from a life of fear, learning to forgive the father who had shattered her life and discovering joy and peace that comes from doing so.

-        from the book jacket of My Name is Mahtob

It's been many years since I read the book Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, but I will NEVER forget how deeply the story affected me – Betty's true account of how her Iranian-born husband Sayed “Moody” Mahmoody held her and their preschool-age daughter Mahtob hostage in his homeland and subjected them to a life of abuse and fear churned up such anger in me that, if the copy I was reading at the time hadn't been a library book, I would have thrown it at the wall numerous times (the movie adaptation made me even angrier and to this day I cannot look at Alfred Molina, the actor who portrayed Moody, and not want to reach through the television and punch him.).

Needless to say, I had always wondered about what happened to Betty and especially Mahtob after they began to re-establish their lives in America, so when I learned that Mahtob had written her own book I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Just as I had expected, My Name Is Mahtob stirred up just as many emotions as Not Without My Daughter, only instead of getting angry, Mahtob's story brought me to tears (and ultimately caused me to feel sorry for her father who, right until his death in 2009, clung to the opinion that his wife and daughter's recollections of what happened were untrue). And while it seems unfair to say that I enjoyed this book, given its premise, I did enjoy this book – because My Name is Mahtob is not simply the seemingly tragic story of a little girl held hostage for eighteen months with her mother by her Iranian father in his homeland – it is also the victorious story of a resilient child who, BECAUSE of her father's actions, found strength, courage, and an unwavering faith in God that would help carry her into adulthood and become the intelligent, humble woman she is today.

To anyone who read Not Without My Daughter, I would highly recommend taking the time to read My Name is Mahtob because while It IS a story of heartache and trial, it is also a story of resilience – and how forgiveness can give you the strength to rise above those trials and emerge stronger than ever.

Note: This book was provided free of charge to me from BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review of the text.

Get your own copy of My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody on Amazon.