The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska;Elaine McArdle


Despite all my years of studying brain disorders, for the first time in my life I realize how profoundly unsettling it is to have a mind that does not function.

The doctor becomes the patient in this fascinating memoir. Exhibiting symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia, much to the horror of those who knew and loved her best, Barbara Lipska’s doctors do everything possible to figure out what is going on.  Why was her frontal lobe failing her? From where was her madness coming from?  It is melanoma, brain cancer. Amazingly, when immunotherapy began to heal her, she remembered everything that happened during her descent into madness, bringing with her firsthand knowledge about what happens in the mind (brain), aiding science in better understanding.

Mental illness today is still a mystery, there is so much we just don’t comprehend. How does a brain injury alter behavior? What about traumatic events? Are the answers only in the brain? Is schizophrenia a disease, something going haywire in the brain, what about anxiety? Depression? How do such conditions relate to Lipska’s brain tumors and the effect they had on her mental state? Thirty years of studying mental illness couldn’t teach her as much as her own experience. More than anything, this memoir is eye-opening, humbling in relating what those with mental health difficulties and brain disorders live with.  It is frightening to think no one is immune. At any time, an injury, an illness, a mental disturbance could plunge our fragile mind in a state of madness. It’s easy to dismiss this brain we don’t think too much about, that does so much for us our entire lives, never imagining it could fail or trick us. We all will age, studying the brain is crucial to our health, to our very being.

I remember a law class I took in high school, meeting a lawyer who warned us against riding motorcycles because he had a client that was in a horrific wreck and suffered a brain injury. He told us, his entire personality changed, this once kind man became violent, believing he was being persecuted by everyone. What can understanding cancer, brain injuries do to help with treating dementia? Other mental illnesses? It’s important to understand the science behind the mind, what a vast universe that demands exploration. Could it help, I wonder, understand how our environment, our experiences change our brains? The mind is a mystery, as Lipska’s unraveled she was able to find the right treatment and return to herself, mind intact and with first hand knowledge to add to her years of study.

I’ve always wondered, what is it that causes the individual with mental illness to lose their grip on reality, why does a certain treatment work for one person and yet not another. Is it all the brain? How do experiences in life alter the mind, why? Is mental illness a curable disease? Is it something bigger than science? I have an uncle who has schizophrenia, it is somewhat known he used LSD during his time in Vietnam (in the army).  He also had something traumatic happen, either witnessed or was involved in. He was never the same. We always wondered, was it genetic, caused by drug use, trauma? A combination of all three? I don’t know the answers. I hope in the near future we understand mental health far better than we do today, and more that we can have compassion. Truth is, it terrifies people, it makes them uncomfortable and it’s a shame because instead of understanding what is happening in the mind, people are shunned. My son has an austism spectrum disorder, so understanding the science behind the mind has been important to me. How does it happen? When? Thinking on Autism alone, there there are so many variations, different ways stimulating the mind can help with higher functioning. As much as we know, there is still far more we don’t.

It is vital to every human being to understand the workings of the brain, we all have one, despite evidence to the contrary we sometimes see. All kidding aside, this is a fascinating memoir. Also, anyone dealing with mystery illness can relate to the struggle of trying to get the proper diagnosis.  Dr. Barbara Lipska  is highly educated, she has the means, and even for her it’s a fight to understand what is happening. Imagine the obstacles for those with little to no money and poor access to the best doctors. It’s vital we understand our own health, our needs. Demand doctors who are knowledgable in whatever disease, or mysterious illness that we suffer from. Easier  said then done, though.

A memoir about a woman who is both patient, and doctor. Interesting read.

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


My Dead Parents: A Memoir by Anya Yurchyshyn


Ukraine sounded like a setting for a dark fairy tale that offered no magic or redemption, a place that had nothing to do with me.

It’s a strange sort of life for American born children with parents who come from other countries. The stories our parents share are nothing we can fully grasp, having never been at the mercy of losing our freedoms, yearning for a culture you had to leave behind, our only history in memories painted by our parents. It’s so much harder when you’ve never been taught your parent’s language, there are things that never translate (words, memories, nightmares). How are we to understand the spaces in the distance between us, the sorrows we can’t understand because said parent doesn’t have the words to express them, even if their English is flawless? Culture is a beautiful thing, but it can be limiting too. In part of the memoir, Anya mentions her cousins being more ‘Ukrainian’ than she and her sister were, having been exposed to the culture and taught the language. Her father compared them and felt she and her sister could never measure up, but how could she when he didn’t take the effort nor time to teach them. It’s funny how common that is, how often a parent can be proud of their heritage and yet give up teaching their American children about it, especially the language, then feeling slighted their offspring can’t say a word beyond hello and goodbye in their mother tongue, nor muster up the sufficient amount of pride and patriotism their parent feels.

We have a habit of dissecting behaviors based on our own experiences, never thinking how living in a country can mould you. Coldness can be a defense, mistrust and distance can be a byproduct of real events that took place when you had to fear your neighbors, even your own family turning you in for speaking against the regime. It means nothing to a child though, looking for love, acceptance, warmth. Anya has only her own experience to draw from, her own homeland, with needs any American child has that foreign parents resent or simply cannot comprehend. Their expectations are so much higher, understanding what obstacles they had to conquer to get where they are. Both are naturally gifted, highly intelligent, but it for Anya what is simple to her parents was a struggle for her. Anya’s parents were different people when they were alone together on their travels. As parents they were disappointed, short-tempered, demanding, drunk, distant, or outright absent. It was impossible to work up enthusiasm for his short visits, he was as much as a stranger. When her father was killed, she was numb because what did she really know about him? She could only recall being a disappointment to him. He was never really around, having lived overseas for his job, far more interested in his career. To Anya’s eyes there was a selfish cruelty there, how different her mother could have been had she had support, love instead of being a married woman living like a single mother. He got to use his education, give his dreams wings, experience all the exciting things the places he traveled and worked at had to offer while her once vibrant, gorgeous, intelligent mother was left behind to be the adult. It robbed she and her sister as much, leaving them with an unhappy mother that didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to nurture them. Her mother was consumed over his death, it had to have been murder! It was because of his work! Growing up, Anya’s mother drank herself into a stupor, she couldn’t be sure how much was delusional drunk ravings or truth. She falsely believed her parents were incapable of love, especially for each other.

It isn’t until she loses her mother that she uncovers the secret wounds both her mother and father carried, and finds herself traveling to Wales and the Ukraine, speaking to people who knew them to find out if there is truth to her father having been murdered. In the process, she discovers losses her mother suffered, that explains perfectly how she became unhinged. The heartbreak is in realizing she would have loved to know them, how much fun it would have been to be friends with her mother, to see the light in her father’s eyes when he was in his element, as strangers knew him. But it’s never to be. All she has is the remains of the past.

It’s a struggle, in loss people gasp when someone confesses that they didn’t feel the expected emotions to their parent’s passing. Maybe that’s because so many people have intimate relationships with their parents, or a gentler, safer upbringing. Others are left to struggle with conflicting emotions, particularly in abusive relationships. Taking care of a drunk parent is a form of abuse, distance is a form of abuse. Yet, through her search she knows there were reasons why her mother couldn’t keep things together, why her father chose to ‘run’ from her sorrow. There is still love but it’s a different sort. Anya, through excavating the ruins of her parent’s life and marriage, is able to forgive and maybe find some peace, solve some of the mystery of who they were as people. This is a deeply sad, moving memoir. Some answers still leave many questions. Was he murdered? Was his death just an unlucky accident? Some questions never have a solid answer, especially in countries where truth is a slippery beast.

Publication Date: March 27, 2018

Crown Publishing

I Found My Tribe: A Memoir by Ruth Fitzmaurice


I hold his hand but he doesn’t hold back. His darting eyes are the only windows left.

Ruth’s Tribe is a beautiful intimate memoir not just about husband Simon’s ALS (a motor neuron disease) nor is it focused on her friends, and fellow “Tragic Wives Swimming Club” tales and woes. It’s about everything that happens before and after disease decides to become a permanent family member. It’s the desperation to believe in and try every remedy or treatment on God’s green earth! It’s the torturous crawl as ALS steals Ruth’s beloved from her and their young children, much as the tide erodes the land. Each loss Simon suffers, the deterioration of every function, is a fresh gutting of the family. Before the gravity of their new reality struck Ruth, there was hope and belief that it could be fought! This line moved me “Alternative diagnoses seek unconventional cures. It’s a road that Simon is compelled to limp and trip upon.” Anyone who has ever dealt with illness knows too well the search, the desperation for answers, for ‘fixes’ and it’s not just the patient who lives with the despair. The healthy pass so much time angry that all they can do is watch in helpless horror as their loved one’s health is in decline. Those doctors are a last resort, they aren’t making it better! That journey, with the strength of friends, won’t change the outcome but the sick aren’t the only ones who need to be healed. Love and friends who can bear some of the burden, people who are solid, who can bring life and joy if only to still the chaos for a moment sometimes that is all you can ask of the universe. Ruth is lucky, and blessed with the best people in her life.

With everything so bleak, they decide to try for more children. The family grows and grows, Simon is there and yet not. The beauty of this novel is in the memories Ruth shares, from before she knew Simon and was just a young girl, to their early love when everything was so much easier to control, to the present when she admits she isn’t always kind and resents the things his family does for her. So often illness is wrapped up into a beautiful present, not so here. There is anger and fear. The children trickle in and out, one a worrier, another a ‘war baby’ all of them learning to have a father that cannot interact as ‘normal’ father’s do. Somehow it should feel more tragic, and it does, but there are moments so deliciously tender or silly that makes the reader feel a deeper connection to them all.

It’s tragic, of course it is! But life forges ahead, children grow up, there is no alternative to living with what the universe gave you. People talk a lot about love, but this is a genuine love story. There wasn’t a moment when I questioned the love Ruth has for her husband. I wish we could get into Simon’s mind though. I really wish there was a whole chapter about his thoughts and emotions, I cannot imagine the stillness, watching life spinning fast around you, unable to interact as much as your mind longs to.

It’s a poetic, honest, unflinching confessional of loving a man with MND, loving the children you have together and commiserating with other women, swimming to keep your sanity, swimming too against the disease. Some of her choices make their life harder, I’m stumped, but that’s how we human beings are. We want to change direction, because maybe tweaking the plan can change the outcome? The book is dizzying at times, and I thought it was perfect for a mind consumed by the weight of illness.

Incurable… disease isn’t the only incurable thing we have to bear. Life itself is incurable, and so we go with the tide….

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Bloomsbury USA


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover


“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”

The above quote is true, in a sense, for all children but more so in certain families. This was one of the most captivating memoirs I have ever read. Ideas can be dangerous, and children are nothing if not always at the mercy of their parents. They are our Gods, they rule the universe until we are able to fully think and decide for ourselves, but how do you do that when you’ve been conditioned? What about being kept out of school, taught to distrust everyone that doesn’t share your parents beliefs? Here is the truth, when your world is small and contained you are so much easier to control, to manipulate. Maybe all parents poison the minds of their children with their ideology, often not meaning too. We can’t be right all the time, and aren’t as progressive as we imagine. Every parent has allowed their prejudices to bleed into their children, well meaning or not- born out of fear or from horrible experience that colored our thoughts and those things can wreak havoc for life on our children, carried well into adulthood. How do we purge the rot and nurture the seeds of good our parents have placed inside of us? As with all of us, Tara Westover spent much of her life sifting through her education, life lessons, religious beliefs, etc. A child of survivalists, believing the end of times is always around the corner, forced to prep endlessly, that the rest of the world is full of sin, forbidden to be seen  or treated by doctors (because God and nature heals, not man) barred from school (because it’s brainwashing) her father is first and foremost a faithful servant of God. Early on he has episodes, everyone must fall in line to his demands, even her mother forced into midwifery and healing. Her brother is brutally abusive, and abuse is something no one really understands until they’ve lived through it. Good, Bad… how do you make that separation with nothing to compare it to? You can only dissect things with what you are aware of, what do you do when it’s been drilled into you that all you can trust is your family, forced to view the entire world as ominous and evil?

Tara, of course has an inborn feeling of right and wrong and an intelligence beyond what is ‘acceptable’ but there is a struggle with religion and the love she feels for her family. While her father has spent his life sure the rest of the world is a threat, out to brainwash godly people he himself is guilty of such. Be it an unamed illness in him or manical faith, a label changes nothing when behavior is enabled and beyond anyone’s control. Yes, any sane person would be horrified by the things she and her siblings were forced to do, things even strong grown men would be hardpressed to take on, and why does she see it through? Because parents are in control, there is no other option, and later to protect others. It does dawn on her that her life is hardscrabble and brutal, and as quoted above, when one of her brothers seeks a different way of life and escapes (which is a mean feat) she finds her own way out.

Being out is a loaded thing too. Chosing anything other than the life her father has mapped out for his children is to be excommunicated! It’s siblings having to chose sides, it’s relying solely on oneself. Tara is one hell of a strong woman, and the madness of it is her parents, in all their outrageous expectations and teachings still are a part of the reason she turned out the way she did. What a thing to chew on! We become, either in spite of or because of, don’t we. We discard what’s been forced upon us, embrace it, or ulter it until the fit is right. Even the most horrific of things we have survived are a part of our evolution, so to speak.

Tara loves her parents, there is no doubt but that doesn’t mean she can’t see their flaws. It’s a miracle anyone survived her father and his ideas, and her mother- because she allowed it, she took part in it. The dizzying moments come when things do turn out, when her parents have success or share a scrap of tenderness, that’s the confusion for her. Surely, if they are right about this than maybe she is the bad one?

I can’t even begin to do justice to this memoir, it’s so hard to review them anyway as you feel like you have someone’s life in your hands, such an over-exaggeration I know, but really, this is a raw account of Tara Westover’s heartbreaking and inspiring struggle to free herself. Do not be fooled by the cover, it isn’t just about education nor off the grid survivalists and religion. I couldn’t put it down, and spent so much time collecting flies with my mouth gaping open in shock. There is a lingering sadness inside of me, even for her brother whom wronged Tara in so many ways, and that is how it is for her.I could write paragraphs about everything I felt and thought along the journey of this memoir, but the best I can do is tell others to read it!  I hope there is another book one day, she is someone you long to check in on, that you’re rooting for. I don’t think I could have found my way as she found hers, it takes courage and something more that so many of us are missing. It’s so much easier to play possum and just accept the devil you know, but I kept hearing ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and ‘rely on yourself’. She sure did!

Yes, a must read for 2018!

Publication Date: February 20, 2018

Random House



I’m The One Who Got Away: A Memoir by Andrea Jarrell




“The first time I saw him on television, I was seven. My mother and I were living in a little apartment near UCLA. During a commercial on Marcus Welby, M.D., she whispered, “It’s Nick.”

A woman is murdered, someone on the periphery of Andrea Jarrell’s life, a woman she kept at a distance because maybe she reminded her too much of her own upbringing with a single mother. A woman ‘other than‘ the mothers she prefers to surround herself with, the ones who know the right way to raise children, who have marriages intact and a natural ease in their mothering. The safe, stable, good solid families not those who are unkempt or harried. With this tragedy and the shocking reality of the abuses she must have suffered, Jarrell’s mind returns to her childhood, raised by a single mother with a dangerously abusive father always lurking in the background of her memory.

Andrea was too young to know how her mother escaped her cruel abusive father, left to rely solely on her mother’s stories from that time. Certainly he is a beautiful man, an actor of some success, friends to celebrities like Frank Sinatra. Her mother couldn’t raise her daughter in a home where the father saw threats to his masculinity, accusing her mother of desiring other men. Abusive, controlling and yet drowning with a seductive magnetism her mother, and most everyone in his path, find irresistible. The years collect, and it’s just the two of them. There are rough times, yet good ones too as Andrea’s mother always planned trips to distant places, like Europe. Each are growing experiences, with men somehow always a threatening presence that no one senses more than women on their own.

Her mother dates, but never seems to keep a long term relationship nor allow her dating to get in the way as sometimes happens with single parents. Andrea’s mother was a hard working woman that wasn’t going to fall apart, nor wait for a man to save them. Just as Andrea is coming into her teen years her father finds his way back to them, luring Andrea into a relationship. She struggles with the confusion of longing for his affection and resenting him. Against her better judgement, knowing he truly doesn’t deserve to be the proud father, she tries to form a bond. Her memories are both her own and versions of her mothers, there are things she begins to love about her father and others she cannot stomach. Falling for her dad is much like a new ‘romance’, the highs and lows, hungry for the fatherly affection she was long denied.

Perplexed by the sudden appearance of her father, and the freedom her mother allows her in finally letting the ‘big bad man’ back into their lives, after doing everything in her power to flee him, it isn’t long before she realizes her mother has an ulterior motive, they both do. Just how much will the story have to change to allow Nick, her father, back into their lives? Can her mother really erase the past, could her father have changed?

While a murder sets off memories of her childhood and the tempest that is her mother and father’s love story, it really isn’t center stage to this memoir. This is a story about a girl who spent the formative years with a single mother, free of the abuses of a controlling husband/father only to have him upend their lives once again. It’s the confusion of how it bled into every decision she made in life, of why she kept certain people at a distance and as an adult does her best to blend in with the ‘normal’ families. It’s returning to the beast you know, against your better judgement, it’s resenting the decisions your parents make, and dreading making the same mistakes as your mother.

There is confusion in how someone who ran so far can just seem to give up and change the past to accommodate returning to your first mistake. I just keep thinking ‘better the devil you know’ maybe that should be the name of a condition. Andrea will finally come to know the real abuser her mother fled, and question whether father truly does know best!

Available today September 5, 2017

She Writes Press



Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly


I come from a long line of modest achievers.

This book is delicious, I mean it. It’s comprised of micro-memoirs, some a few paragraphs, others a sentence. Fennelly has so much to say in condensed form. It seems it would require pages of purging to get to the heart of your life, your stories, but this book is evidence to the contrary. I laughed, I related… whether she was telling stories from the time she and her husband were young and ‘dumb with love’ or writing one long sentence to express how tiring motherhood is using a children’s song, Beth Ann Fennelly has nailed the art of micro-memoir!

I kept reading passages to people, it just tickled my brain over and over. I was sad when it ended, I still wanted more. There are hum drum days and more memorable ones. It’s amazing how a few words can hit your heart or your funny bone. I devoured it, but savored the flavor.

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

W.W. Norton & Company


The Best of Us: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard


“Our life together: What we had imagined. What we got.”

Truer words were never written. It never plays out as we imagine, does it? Joyce Maynard shares with us her own love story, a sort of second life that she didn’t expect nor necessarily think she wanted. In her late fifties Joyce found love in Jim, at an age when people treat women like their ‘off the shelf, finished, done, a husk’ her true love entered. There is a memory she shares from her first marriage, when she was surprised by the many people that showed up to hear her speak  and called home that night only to have her husband tell her “Just don’t come back with a swelled head”, the reader can’t help but feel the crush of it. To be witness to Jim’s arrival in Joyce’s life, submerged in the memories of Jim and the love they shared before his illness reached in like a thief, is a painful journey the author has bravely shared and a gift for any reader. The fight to ‘beat this thing’, to be the special one that can eat the right things, find the perfect treatment… well how can one not hope?

This is one of the most vulnerable memoirs I’ve read. The willingness to share the ‘earthquakes’ in her life, to expose all her wounds for our judgement- I’ve always felt there is a certain bravery in memoir. Maynard shares too the painful decisions she made with her adoptive daughters, and it had me thinking about the knee jerk reactions so many of us (myself included) have about others, famous or not, and their life choices. We have a habit of not thinking about the everyday struggles other’s face, that sometimes what may seem like a ‘Cruella De Vil ‘ move may have been the hardest step someone took and a selfless one at that.

I wonder, as I arrive each year with more disasters behind me, because we are nothing if not imperfect creatures, how we know love so much better in the second half of our lives. Here we are with our war wounds, grounded, maybe a bit defeated by our earlier idealism not just about love but family too that maybe the second half of our lives is the meat. Yes, it’s a given Jim dies at the end, but that isn’t the story. The story is their love, the fragility of time, the pain of hope and the crushing weight of loss. It’s not over for Joyce, and Jim is still with her, he was her guard dog- that sort of love remains forever.

I read that Joyce Maynard, selling her lover JD Salinger’s (yes that Salinger) letters was quoted as saying ‘I’d rather put my children through college than own a box of Salinger’s letters.”  Is that terrible? I have two kids in college at the same time, my lord if only I had a box of letters of my own! Writers are loud mouths, famous or not, we cannot shut up- scribbling furiously, story tellers, observers that must share their experience,  some of us in journals no one ever sees, others publishing their truth, there is something very interesting about this woman! He truth is biting, she doesn’t hide and I admire that.

I sometimes think about those in the spotlight and feel relief I am nobody, free to live my life without the entire world’s opinions about a life they haven’t spent one day in. Memoir is a strip tease, and those of us who are honest know we aren’t all beautiful underneath our clothes, we are flawed and Joyce admit this- even in her love with Jim she shares the ugly truth. There were times she resented the illness, anyone who has ever seen a loved one through sickness knows it’s not beautiful, it’s exhausting for the caretaker too- why is that such a shameful thing to admit?

It’s hard to read, because suffering is so unfair- as if the universe is picking on you and most especially your loved one. Is their final breath relief? Yes and God No! This is such a painful death and love story.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Bloomsbury USA