Find A Place For Me: Embracing Love and Life in the Face of Death by Deirdre Fagan

Walking numbly back to the parking garage holding hands with Bob, only dimly aware of my own body, we began the long walk toward Bob’s death and our departure from each other.

“Till death do us part” seems like an insignificant saying when you first marry, always thinking of some distant future that has nothing to do with us. We know we’re all going to die, but the reality of this fact isn’t something most of us gnaw on and confront daily. When your partner is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s not long before the truth brutalizes you. Deirdre and Bob have two young children, Liam and Maeve, and an eleven-year marriage when Bob is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure and as the illness progresses, it steals more than time. Dierdre is no stranger to terminal illness nor how quickly it robs you of your loved ones. Could fate really be so cruel again? Why Bob, why her family? Now, she struggles not only with seeing her beloved Bob’s health deteriorate as well as the creeping loss of his independence but the jolting shock of what it will mean for their children to grow up once he is gone.

Many books about illness, usually fictional, are upbeat. You know, doom and gloom until love saves the day. In real life, that’s not how it ends. Dierdre and Bob’s journey is an unflinching look at the fears, strengths and weaknesses that flood them. Dierdre doesn’t shy away by martyring herself, in fact, she and Bob are very open about the emotions they are feeling. Flawed, imperfect… human. There is laughter with tears, it’s not always grim. As they learn about expressing their affection and love for each other, the variety of ways it is still possible to physically engage in, they do so with humor. It is an education, one that begs the question, why is sexuality when disability or illness is involved kept in the dark? It’s enlightening to be privy to the insights they discover. I can’t help but ache for Bob as he has no choice in leaving his family, it is a certainty, and no amount of optimism will change the outcome. It’s a fearful, painful fact but somehow he remains a pillar. Dierdre faces a future as a single mother, her solid, strong, practical husband will no longer be there to anchor her. She and their children will be witness to Bob’s immobility struggles, it is a terrifying prospect and what if she fails? What if the children do not understand? How will she keep her emotions in check, to be brave for Bob, to be strong for their children? Mothers cannot fall apart.

Dierdre already fears losing her partner, emotional support, affection, how can she not? How can she hold it together when she knows she will soon be alone? It’s not surprising to see her fishing in the past, her mind full of what ifs.

Bob wants nothing more than to spend the time he has, while his body is still functioning, loving his family and living a joyful life. Dierdre wants to support him. They reach out to family and friends, giving all their loved ones a chance to spend time with Bob. She wants to give Bob an endless party ‘until he’s had enough’. It’s a collection of last moments full of heart.

This is a beautiful, raw look at marriage, love and terminal illness. Coping with ALS isn’t what Bob nor Dierdre chose, but they must answer questions and make choices that carry unimaginable weight. ALS is a fast-moving train, there isn’t time for sparing feelings or hiding from hard facts and with fierce love Bob and Dierdre spend their last moments as a family with grace. They are not characters in some fictional weeper, it isn’t always pretty, how the body fails us, nor what our hearts demand and this memoir is a no holds barred account of loss. It is the finer moments as much as meeting Bob and Dierdre at their lowest. Beautiful.

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Pact Press

Savor: A Chef’s Hunger For More by Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell

It’s funny. When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living.

Fatima Ali, a New York chef born in Pakistan, is known for competing in and winning an episode of Chopped on Food Network. A fan favorite, she also appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef but within this memoir we are on an intimate journey from her childhood, where she shares what gave birth to her love of food and cooking, to her battle with cancer and her farewell to family, friends and fans. Tarajia Morrell was asked by Fatima to collaborate on a bucket list book based on her dream travel and meals, but life had other plans, her book became something else entirely. Cancer invaded her body, yet another obstacle in her life, one that she fought to the very end. Farezeh Durrani (a contributor), Fatima’s mother, gave her daughter permission to write this book, despite knowing that she would, as Fatima said, bear the brunt of her child’s searing revelations, shames and regrets. For how can Fatima give an honest rendering of her days without writing about her mother, stripping them both bare in the process? Fearless, that was always what her beloved child was, tirelessly forging a culinary career, living life on her terms, and trying to be a good example for young Pakistani girls. Some gifts are painful, and that’s what this love letter to food and life is.

It is beside her maternal grandmother, Nano, whose masterful bargaining at the markets in Pakistan and delicious kitchen secrets that Fatima first apprenticed. Her father, too, loved to watch cooking shows and indulge in exotic ingredients he bought on his travels through different parts of the world. Despite being a lawyer, it was his love of food that he shared with Fatima and her brother Mohammad, encouraging them to try them all. Not even moving to the other side of the world nor the breakdown of her family could change how she felt about cooking, a lifelong passion. While this is a beautiful trip through flavors, textures and smells that inspired Fatima’s future career, it is also a harrowing tale of trauma and illness. Family secrets altered her young life, and no matter how hard her mother tried to shelter her child from ugliness, to raise her to be a proper, respectful Pakistani girl, it is her own fears that cost her daughter the most. The reflections are not about punishment, it is a cleansing through confronting uncomfortable truths, as if to purge it from her soul. With Ewing’s Sarcoma (a rare bone cancer, tumor) making a return after she fights it off, robbing her of her future dreams, there isn’t any time left to live in the dark. Never does the reader doubt the bond Fatima and Farezeh shared, nor does any account of the ways she failed her daughter detract from the love between them, love that not even death can erase. I believe if she could have traded places with Fatima, she would have done it without hesitation. Farezeh’s chapters made me feel compassion for both of them, but nothing stunned me more than the courage that burned within Fatima. Even at her sickest, in most painful moments, she wanted to live a meaningful life, to inspire others and go forward being true to her heart’s desires, shame be damned. Her strength isn’t without fear, of her illness, of slowly seeing her days disappear when all she wanted was to ‘cast the cancer out through sheer will’. How can it be that for all the odds she beat, the demons that didn’t destroy her when she was an innocent child, that now this evil disease won’t retreat? Despite her own suffering, she still cared about the children on her floor and the unjust facts of the disease that would take their lives too.

I think about Farezeh often, despite feeling deeply touched we can put the book down and move on with our lives, while ultimately it is an ever-present void for her, the place her Fatima once occupied. There is courage in her heart too, in sharing such a private relationship with the world, Fatima confessed that her mother deserves credit for the force of her will in fighting to stay alive. As a mother, I couldn’t help but cry, particularly for the helplessness we feel when our children’s lives are on the line. As a patient who has dealt with illnesses, I know all to well the cage of disease. The anger that boils when our body can refuse our needs, demands- so much crueler for the young. It is inspiring, beautiful and devastating. Not just a book for chefs, food lovers, or those battling cancer, it is a memoir that will move any reader. Fatima’s road to a culinary career, her culture, travels, family and love make such a bittersweet memorial. Yes, read it.

Published October 11, 2022

Random House

Ballantine

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us: Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma by Mike Mariani

The will and wherewithal born out of catastrophe cannot be showcased, glorified, or even reliably observed, because it is subject to constant confiscation, a daily toll that must be paid so that the embattled may continue progressing through their lives.

Afterlives is a fascinating word for people who have had misfortune dumped upon them. There is no end to feel good stories on television, in movies, and on bookshelves that recycle Nietzsche’s famous adage, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Uplifting tales of untold horrors, trauma where the victim comes out on the other side strong as an oak, wise as an owl and almost euphoric in conquering their misfortune. I always wonder, then what? As human beings, our emotions aren’t static. Each day brings challenges, more so when your way of life has been upended. Coming through the other end of accidents, illnesses, trauma, mistakes or having been the victim of a brutal crime isn’t the end of a chapter that you never pick up again. Not for those living afterlives, where their place in life has been torn from its roots. What, then, do such catastrophic events make of us?

Mike Mariani found himself facing a life-altering, chronic illness, grasping at the meaning of suffering making for a stronger human being. The adage leaves out the fragility, vulnerability, anger, pain, disbelief, shame, sorrow, confusion, resentment that arrives with the new reality. These are challenges that come to define a person, whether they want them to or not. Life as they knew it has ceased to exist and it is disorientating, suddenly they are estranged from their own lives. Funny to read such a book on the heels of Covid-19 and the deep depression people felt collectively, the unreality of routines on hold. Imagine never getting back to what is normal for you. As I read this book, I took it personally, my own health struggles and those of loved ones. The world can feel like a cold place in the wake of diagnosis, blessed to be alive, but truly feeling crucified by your failing body. You have been evicted from your identity, in a sense, and there is no amount of rallying from others, nor a warrior like stance that is going to return you to the life that anchored you before. One day you have the strength to fight, the next you plummet, that’s the ugly truth.

Brutal crime is an entirely different beast, one that I won’t pretend to understand the ramifications of. There are innocent victims and perpetrators here, sometimes a person encompasses both. I won’t deny being inspired by Mike’s subjects, who are facing their own afterlives, ones they never opted to live, but don’t think it’s meant to be an uplifting, pleasurable read so you go back to your life feeling safe and secure, tragedy barred. Sure, they have withstood the very nightmares people fear, but their lives are evolving with each day they meet. There are new challenges to face, the past returns to torment, and sometimes, memories take flight altogether, leaving them betrayed by their own minds (not uncommon in brain injuries). Another casualty is loved ones of the victims, friends and family who are now meeting someone different from the person they knew. People drop off, just another loss to mourn. If you are of a religious bend, how do the miseries you now live with take on meaning, is it deserved punishment? Are you earning your place in heaven by bearing a cross? If you are into philosophy or art, is this a source for creation, all this undue suffering and misery? If your faith is in science, how do cold, hard facts now define your purpose, your existence? It’s terrifying how are beliefs are tested.

Not all those living afterlives are victims of circumstance, take Sean, who commits a crime at seventeen that leaves him sentenced to life in prison. What led to his choices, what followed? There are many types of prisons, anyone dealing with PTSD can attest to this. It’s not just physical, mental, nor emotional. These stories truly are about ‘reconstructing’ one’s life after ruin, how the expectations of ‘pulling yourself together’ is often unrealistic and just as traumatizing as the event itself. They are reports of adversity, resilience, humility, and grief- they are personal endeavors that take constant revision. There is beauty in the ‘refinement’ each person has undertaken, and incredible strength of character, and I don’t say that lightly. These are some of the heaviest wounds I have ever read about. They are all, like us, a work in progress, but facing much harder challenges. We don’t know what fate has in store for us, philosophy, religion, or science may be a balm for our pains, but there aren’t any words or discoveries that can encompass the shifts that take place after catastrophe, to think so is an assault.

The reader is confronted by invisible lives; it reminds me that you never know what someone else is going through. It is incredible that people give birth to a new way of life, sorting through what they can salvage and what they must discard to go on. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: August 30, 2022 AVAILABLE NOW

Random House Publishing

Ballantine

The Man Who Tasted Words: A Neurologist Explores the Strange and Startling World of Our Sense by Dr. Guy Leschznier

Consider your five senses. Place them in order- at the top put the sense you could not survive without, at the bottom the one you would sacrifice first.

It’s an interesting thing to consider, what sense you would give up. Personally, I would like to keep all of mine. This is a fascinating, intelligent study of the senses. My interest in neurology has been born of neurological disorders in my own family, including my meningioma, which can be a terrifying reality. I know all too well about not being able to function after a severe migraine episode, one that had me behaving as if I was having a stroke. I also have always been drawn to the subject of mental health, how our brains are wired. The most amazing truth I take away from this book is that people are incredible and resilient, some of the patient stories are uplifting and others crushing, devastating. As stated within these pages, “As ever in the world of neurology, it is through understanding the system when it goes wrong that we gain insight into normal functions.” Those of us whose systems have crashed realize how vital every single function is and thank our lucky stars there are people out there looking for answers.

It’s fascinating to me how our nervous system runs much of our lives, how we rely on all of our senses for survival, they keep us safe from danger, give us warnings about our own health. No one wants to feel pain, but what would we do without it? Not feeling pain isn’t quite the superpower one would suppose it to be. We experience the world with our senses and losing even one can upend our lives. The senses are tied up in memories from birth, what we taste, touch, smell, see, hear. Learning, we learn with our senses, don’t we? What about the state of our mind, how our emotions alter our senses? How can that be? There is a reason they say the mind is a powerful thing, that it can change our reality. Why do depressed people often have dampened senses? How can someone taste words or see without eyes? Why do people experience auditory hallucinations, even after hearing loss? How does our brain process certain information and know what to discard? How can we trust our senses when they are often deceptive?

Randomness (like accidents, injuries), genetic mutations, auto-immune diseases, seizures, blindness, strokes, loss of taste, smell, illnesses, trauma-there is no end to causes that can disrupt our senses. How is the attention that we give to them an important factor? This is a provocative read, I was pondering the senses in a different light and learning much more about the brain and the circuitry of our nervous system than I imagined. What a mystery the human body is, despite all our scientific advances. I was engrossed by the patients, the journey each was on and all that they shared with the reader. Many people are unique and present a challenge to doctors. It is through studying these deviations from the ‘norm’ that understanding expands, hope is born that help is on the horizon for so many of us. An intelligently written book.

Publication Date: February 22, 2022

St. Martin’s Press

Night Rooms: Essays by Gina Nutt

My dread has no origin. It extends back as far as I remember.

Moments in life can induce emotions not unlike those horror movies provoke. Unsure what’s creeping around the corner, insidious illnesses, dangerous strangers, being swallowed by the dark… stage fright. Maybe so many people gravitate towards horror films because it is an escape from all the real things in life that give us the “heebie jeebies, the creeps”. In this collection of essays, Gina Nutt examines moments in her own life and scenes from horror movies, translating distress, deflecting misfortune, mulling over displays at the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans and the many instruments of horror from days of old. Nature isn’t off the hook, it can devastate too- as she ponders the many disaster rides at theme parks.

There are the terrors particular to women, our biological clock, sometimes faulty. How we feel about our bodies, desire, our very sexuality which can be both pleasure and pain. Sickness that hits us from nowhere, feeling like a specimen before the doctor, wondering if something lethal is inside of you, the sickness of stress. Obsessive focus on worst case scenario scenes, and having filled up on horror movies supplies endless fodder for that. The mad feeling of an unquiet mind, the torment of knowing death waits for us all and how do we live happy lives while that hangs over our heads? Okay, so going to the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a little, well… morbid- but one has to wonder, if yesterdays science and norms are todays horrors, doesn’t it translate that the same will one day be said of our norms? We humans are strange creatures, and Gina Nutt indulges all the things that people are meant to avoid. It truly is the distance watching horror films provide that makes it ok to enjoy them, right?

Life has it’s grim moments, if you live long enough you will house illness, be party to grief, loss, have your own dark night of the soul, but there is always poetry and hope. There is balance, there will be sunny days, but remember too much light can be brutal too! As Gina Nutt writes, “Horror movies are contained catastrophes.” That could be it. We can live out our biggest fears and walk away alive.

This was an interesting, unique collection- I watched a lot of horror movies as a teenager. It was fun to be spooked, scared stupid! She takes intimate moments from her own life and intertwines the memories with pieces of horror films she has feasted on. It’s not all dark humor, there are tender and heartbreaking incidents, one involving suicide. Yes, a solid read for anyone who loves personal essays or horror.

Publication Date” March 23, 2021

Available now

TwoDollar Radio

The Thing about Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood State by Tyler Gillespie

People could say almost anything about the state, and it would be true.

Florida native that I am, there is no denying Florida is a world unto itself and yes, deeply misunderstood. Growing up beneath a sky full of shuttle launches, my father worked at Kennedy Space Center, I saw the first manned shuttle launch of Columbia in 1981 (I’m that old) as well as witnessed the Challenger blowing up with my classmates at school, life can be pretty interesting here and not without its sorrows. Living minutes from the ocean, and less than an hour from all the theme parks it was a magical time to be a kid. I also lived where I had snakes and bobcats in our backyard, so yeah- we are sometimes untamed too! Add the nearby base formerly known as Patrick Air Force now Space Force , where I met and married my future husband, Florida can be pretty serious. It took moving away to England for me to realize just how swampy the air can feel to those who visit. It also tickled me to no end how other people think of us, not just overseas but stateside. After living in England, Japan and North Carolina we returned to my hometown again, which has flourished beyond my imaginings. For a state so many claim to hate and have turned into a long running joke, it certainly isn’t stopping them from making it their home. Naturally, I had to read this book and found myself cringing, nodding my head, and often laughing. It takes another Florida native to really get it! Our experiences can mirror each other and yet be vastly different.

Tyler’s take on our much maligned state is refreshing and just proves the point that Florida is so much more than a punchline. The Atlantic is in my blood, and so is the sunshine. For Florida natives, you take it with you wherever you go, he knows that. Tyler explores the Florida man stories, often not quite what headlines have you believe, surprising facts about the state’s history, the tragic shooting at Pulse Night Club, communities including Miami’s “Little Cuba”, the residents, our laws, the voting system, the wild animals, reptiles and snake farming (including animal smuggling), drag queens, halfway houses, confederate reenactments, conversion therapy, honing in on eclectic “controversial Floridians”- so much more. It is about his time growing up gay and as he says, it’s not meant to ‘defend’ the state but maybe “present a version of Florida other than the caricature so often seen in popular media.” He has done a beautiful job! I was surprised to learn a few things I didn’t even know.

The rest of the country could cut us off all they want, I think we’d still thrive- sure maybe we’re feral but that makes us tough. It’s my belief it’s the hot summers that make us a little wild too. Should our state come with a disclaimer? Nah, we’re not all that bad, people forget what a wild bag of mixed nuts we are. I say that with a grin and a wink. This is a fun read but serious at times too. Well worth your time if you want to know more beyond the ridiculous headlines and unfair assumptions. There really are so many versions of what people experience living here, whether they are natives or transplants. No two stories are alike, and Tyler Gillespie’s words go behind the memes and erase the stereotypes. One thing is a fact, it is always interesting! Yes, read it!!!

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

University Press of Florida

Everything Is Fine: A Memoir by Vince Granata

I imagine Tim’s psychosis, his nocturnal madness, and remember all the hours my mother spent at the piano trying to soothe the raging nightscape that howled in his head.

Vince Granata’s mother was murdered at the hands of his mentally ill brother, this is a brutal fact, but what makes this memoir important for society and keeps it from sensationalizing his family’s tragedy, is the exploration of what brought them to this point. We read the headlines, horrified, make assumptions but most people never go much further than judgement. Claudia Granata was a victim of her son’s psychosis but that doesn’t tell the story of everything that became before and after. That doesn’t inform anyone that Tim, too, was a victim of his own psychosis. Such headlines seem to exist in a manner that erases the dedicated, loving mother who did everything she could to keep her son’s world safe. Yes, Claudia was a highly educated medical doctor, as is her surviving husband Attilio, but even with their means and education their son’s illness couldn’t be managed, and they did try. The day before her death, she spoke to a therapist who warned her to make her son feel safe and ‘be wary’. Their fear was that he would harm himself, as he had threatened to before when the noise in his head became too much to bear. Sadly, she couldn’t have imagined what was coming.

Vince writes about the signs they all neglected to see far earlier than his illness began presenting, and his shame at missed opportunities as a big brother and son. Just as any of us would rake over our own fears of guilt in the aftermath of tragedy, he attempts to pinpoint the pivotal moment when one step in the right direction could have changed the outcome. By sharing his brother Tim’s mental decline, it may well help other families going through similar struggles. The reality is, there is so much we do not understand about mental illness in all its forms, especially schizophrenia, which in Tim’s case went unchecked. What can be done when a patient refuses their meds, because they think they don’t need them, because that’s how the disease presents itself? You think you’re fine, better, cured. What is a person to do who lives each day with a distorted reality? We don’t think about how our perception, yes all of us, creates our world- it’s easier to draw a line from the ‘healthy’ and the ‘ill’ instead of thinking we could ever have any commonalities. All of us base our reality on what our inner voice tells us, what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, we just happen to have the clear functioning, for the most part, of measuring ourselves against others, which keeps us grounded. How differently would we behave, think, feel if we had voices howling at us that someone has abused us, or were demons? How would we react during hallucinations others don’t see but are real for us? Even if it presents in less threatening ways, the fact remains the such illnesses push the patient further away from others, even distrusting our own devoted, worried mothers. Much of the time others push those coping with mental illness away to the fringes of our world, out of fear or ignorance of the condition. Is it really a shock that isolation feels like the only safe haven? It is often in self isolation that the disease grows stronger, overtaking what grasp on reality still remains. Loved ones best efforts sometimes aren’t enough, it’s truly being between a rock and a hard place if a patient is an adult. You cannot force treatment, and the illness can cause paranoia, distrust of even those who truly have nothing but your best interest at heart. Vince’s memoir is not intended as medical research but aside from the patient themselves, who better than those who have been witness to the slow creep of the disease to give testimony?

Granata knows that mental illness still has a stigma, and that we can’t move forward shaming people who carry the burden of the disease. Why are we kinder to people who have visible illnesses? Why don’t we, as a society, understand that mental illness, though complicated and not fully understood, is not any more shameful than any other disease? Even people with the best resources, medical education are lost at sea in trying to help their loved one learn how to treat and manage their mental illness. With memories and stories of Tim we see him not as the monster his horrific act (while suffering psychosis, we must keep in mind) makes him appear to be but as a beloved son and brother who had athletic gifts and promise of his own. I read this as a mother would, there was never a point Claudia gave up. How do you arrive at justice in such a case, when everyone loses? This is not the future she wanted for her son, nor can anyone imagine she would want to see him demonized for the horrors of that ill fated day. What about the healing, how does Vince’s family and yes, Tim included, move forward from here? How does Vince remember the beautiful woman his mother was without the savagery of her final moments poisoning the past? It’s a question he had to ask himself. He cannot honor his mother’s memory without shedding light on who his brother Tim really is when not in the grips of psychosis because he was her heart as much as Vince and his siblings. I don’t have enough words to describe how much this memoir touched me. I know I drone on in this review, but that’s how moving I found it to be, and very relatable. My own son was diagnosed with autism at a young age and anything that’s ‘different’ changes how people treat you, I saw this first hand, even when people try to fit in. It is a daily struggle for him more than any of us. I also understand the scope of a mother’s love, the reach of her heart, her fears and hopes and that she is willing to sacrifice anything to help her children. I think of how my own grandmother had to navigate her son’s schizophrenia, he never stayed on his meds for long past release from hospitalizations. It affected the entire makeup of the family, it could just as easily be a story that could have happened to them. Today there have been more advances, but not leaps. Family has front row seats to the constant fight, it is a helpless, heartbreaking feeling. Vince’s brother was a collegiate heavyweight wrestler, but his fiercest opponent has been his own mind. Vince’s story does not minimize the enormity of Tim’s act, but it’s not a simple case. This memoir is about family bonds, grief, the realities and struggles of mental health, and tragedy but most of all it about about love and forgiveness. I don’t believe the description of Claudia’s end will be what remains with me, but the vision of a loving mother playing the piano to calm the storm in her son’s mind. Yes read it!

Publication Date: April 27, 2021

Atria Books

Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life by Alex Christofi

There are many ideas I haven’t yet written down. They will lacerate me, it is true! But I have my heart and flesh and blood which can also love, and suffer, and desire, and remember, and this, after all, is life.

Alex Christofi has written an intimate portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, one that beautifully connects his personal life with his great work. He wrote his way through, if not out, of personal tragedies. The pen seemed to be at ready to spill each fresh misery that cropped up during his many trials and tribulations, be they born from the seed of love or politics. A man who used even his mock execution during his brutal imprisonment to write a semi-autobiographical novel about the inmates in a Siberian prison camp. Dostoevsky’s writing always seemed to flow from what he was confronted by in life. There was an untold amount of tragedy, some at fate’s mysterious hands but often, like all of us, by his own making. Gambling, poor choices of the heart, deaths, illness- so much plagued our dear author from his earliest loss, that of his mother. Without question, his health influenced his work and was in and of itself a curious thing, epilepsy. So little understood about it during his lifetime, how can it not have affected Fyodor’s thoughts, creativity? Make him question his very mortality?

The phases of his life from childhood to his dying day, the people dear to him as much as those he resented, the pleasures and disturbances of his very existence, all of it found a way into his fiction and, as Christofi points out within these pages, made for autobiographical work. Dostoevsky didn’t need to leave behind memoirs, for he was present in everything he wrote. He pinned human behavior as no other, from the foolish to the profound, and that is why even today the wisdom of his words reaches many readers’ souls. He suffered, lord he suffered like no other. He was contrary, he pursued his desperate wants only to later reflect with keen perception how we never seem to be satisfied with attainment, that the rush is in the chase. He understood humiliation, the misery of insult, the imbalance of class, the madness of politics, the contrary nature of man, and he penetrated the very heart of every emotion that can be born of any situation and was able to express it through characters. Alex Christofi writes beautifully of the author I felt I was observing for an entire lifetime, one who is both grand and small.

This book is far less static than other biographical accounts of Dostoevsky, it is factual but with fictional breezes of Fyodor’s writing blowing through. Fyodor isn’t the only person brought to life, all too often when a historical figure is written about, the people surrounding them fall flat. Not here! The women that he loved, who caused him desire so strong he trembled, pulse with life, even when fading from their own story as consumptive Maria. Polina is the fire, the wildcard and would be assassin, a woman he can’t help but draw close and cling to, despite the burn. Later it is the young Anna, his stenographer who he falls in love with and uses a story to tell her of his love for her. Anna becomes his dearly devoted second wife and mother to his children, sticking by him despite his debts, gambling addictions, the crippling loss of their two children and severe illness. Anna is a beacon to his troubled soul, and their love story as great as anything he has written. She is the one who carries on his legacy, what does a man do to deserve such a faithful, intelligent partner?

I wasn’t expecting to be as deeply engaged as I was. You don’t need to be familiar with Dostoevsky to enjoy the read but certainly a book any fan would enjoy. Every person in his orbit is humanized. Beautifully written, the connections, the facts, the emotions, the timeline- it’s quite the journey. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: March 23, 2021

Bloomsbury USA

Born Under The Gaslight: A Memoir of My Descent Into Borderline Personality Disorder by Cindy Collins

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in my twenties. I never understood the extent to which it ran my life or the degree of dysfunction that it entailed. Only in my forties did I start to work on getting help managing it.

Cindy Collins opens up about her struggle of living with Borderline Personality Disorder, trying to understand and manage it. It is a harrowing experience, particularly throughout her childhood when she had no support and was deemed ‘the crazy one’ within her family. Add the gaslighting (a form of emotional abuse that causes a person to question their every thought, experience, memories and doubt their own sanity) that Cindy was subject to makes for a heartbreaking reality. It’s no mystery that children need structure, basic care, love, nurturing, and guidance but a child who has any challenge (be it physical or mental) requires that much more from their parents. There is, too, the bigger question of what caused her BPD, with all signs pointing to her traumatic childhood and abuse. Cindy Collins had the misfortune of being in a home where the adults were more concerned with selfish endeavors, leaving she and her brother (7 years older) to fend for themselves while they were away on trips. Sometimes they left their lonely children with other family members, who had no business having access to little girls. With no protection, traumatic incidents took place, violations that have left their mark on her body, soul and mind.

Cindy’s relationship with her mother was a toxin pumped daily into her psyche, a woman who invalidated her feelings and smothered her self-confidence leaving no wonder to the reason why she began to revolt. When BPD began to color her thinking, her home life was a sinking ship, leading her to self destruct. Cindy could abandon the wreckage, but being without love and hungry for it, she discovered fast that the damage her parents did had already set in. We can be stripped of every possession and survive, it is when we are stripped of our truths, our very stories that we crumble. To be invalidated by those meant to love and protect you often leads a person to seek out those human needs in anyone willing to give us so much as a crumb. Creating a healthy relationship when you’ve grown up with dysfunction as your ‘norm’ would be nothing short of a miracle and for Cindy her attempts are filled with landmines. Cindy’s journey is about the disharmony of the heart and mind. With a mother whose slogan was “What will the neighbors think”, it’s a hard truth that the only chance Cindy has is to figure out how to rescue herself. Her mother would rather bury her daughter’s trauma, sexual abuse, and mental illness (that she certainly exacerbated if not caused outright) than help her heal. It is nothing less than criminal.

Seeking help is vital, but there is never a guarantee fix, nor a doctor that even understands a particular diagnosis. How is a person meant to corral the extremes of their mental health when the treating physician isn’t fully qualified or worse, when the patient is made to feel like an anomaly rather than a human being? As Cindy tells us, she spends most of her time hitting a wall. The fact is there is no one size fits all to treating trauma, no magical pill no magical thinking that makes everything ‘all better’. We are bombarded by disinformation about mental illness, either made to fear it, minimize it, or dismiss it altogether. Factor in victims of abuse and society politely turns a blind eye. This memoir is for the neighbors that wonder what living in suppression feels like and exposes the truth of what happens behind closed doors. This is what it costs to ‘fit in’, hiding the violations to body and soul, as not to disturb the peace.

Cindy finds light at the end of her tunnel in adulthood with a promising new therapy but if you ever wondered why so many people struggling with mental illness give up on treatment, she provides insight. It takes validation to help her navigate her past and find hope for the future. This is Cindy’s account of what it is like to live with BPD, particularly undiagnosed and in a destructive family. Raw and unflinchingly honest.

Published April 2020

Indomitable Publishing

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

For under the joy, a storm was gaining speed, a roiling sense of foreboding, some wet, starless savagery unfolding beneath my skin.

Suleika Jaouad had just graduated from college, was living in New York City having scored a summer internship, and dreamed of a career as a foreign correspondent. The internship isn’t supporting her, and her exhaustion has returned, telling her a change in scenery could be the cure. A position for a paralegal at an American law firm in Paris catches her eye one hot summer day and soon she is off to the start of a new career in the beauty of France, escape from drudgery but not before she meets a man named Will.

With her fresh start, romance kicks up when she begins to correspond with Will through text messages, emails and long letters. Soon, he arrives in Paris to be with Suleika and just as love is blossoming, a fog descends, her health spirals out of control. An itch, extreme exhaustion that gets worse and worse, all harbingers of something sinister, easy enough to ignore until “burn out syndrome” isn’t enough to explain away why her red blood cells are dropping. Before she can wake up from this nightmare, she is rushed back home to New York and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an extremely aggressive form of cancer. There is a line in this riveting, raw memoir that many women who have suffered illness will relate to, “I wasn’t a hypochondriac, after all, making up symptoms.” Someone could write a book with that title alone and fill it with true horror stories about women and illnesses ignored. With the horror of the diagnosis comes strange relief, to finally have a solid explanation for the symptoms, but this is just the beginning of a long, painful journey. Cancer is indiscriminate, even educated young women with promising futures, careers waiting for them get reeled in by it’s mean hook.

Between Two Kingdoms is an apt title, particularly to those with one foot in the land of the living and the other in the land of the dead (dying). With her revelations on the road of cancer, all the people she meets, the pull and push between her love for Will, her family’s worries, the self-transformations, the grasp for survival and the rewriting of the life she imagined for herself the readers get close to wisdom and suffering. You can never truly know how it feels, not even as a caretaker, until it is your body that has turned against you. To be sick is to live in a world alongside the healthy who sees, at times, to have nothing to do with you. To feel blessed by those willing to stick by your side and resent that you have to feel thankful is beautifully expressed in her fledging, romantic relationship and complicated feelings for Will. Unlike Hollywood movies where the sick glow like saints from their hospital bed, reality is nothing like that. Diagnosis is grave and terrifying for everyone involved but it is the patient that can never put the mantle of their disease down. The failing body will make itself known, and juggling the emotional reaction of others (well intentioned family and friends) is often yet another cross to bear. It is a flood of advice, naturally from people who don’t have medical degrees, advice you didn’t solicit raining down on you like bullets. It’s time no longer being your own, privacy, and humility thrown to the wind. You begin to feel more of a thing, a body pinned under a microscope. It is a suspension of one’s life, with no guarantee it will continue. It is never being out of the woods, not even if you are cured. Illness has a way of cancelling out all the other pressing issues that felt so vital before.

Suleika will watch others, like her, fight and lose their own battles and come close to the edge of death herself. Hope is a demon of it’s own. With her creative mind, Suleika starts a blog that reaches young adults like her, an anchor in the storm of cancer. A blog that lands her an opportunity during her darkest days. In her own words, she expresses the pain of needing people, the pressure of playing the part of patient (how one should suffer, usually with grace), displaced anger, the battle against the clock, mortality, and the horrors of the hospital. Body, mind and life a disaster- this is the ruins of cancer.

What happens when light shines again, when a patient is told they are better but they still feel trapped in the land of the dying? How do you learn to dance with fear without allowing it to lead you? We are all struggling with something, Suleika knows this better than most. This is a gorgeous, biting, brave, honest memoir about a young woman’s life interrupted by cancer and everything that happens in the aftermath. Yes, read it.

Publication Date: February 9, 2021

Random House