The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s by Jeanne Murray Walker | A Review

Award-winning poet Jeanne Murray Walker tells an extraordinarily wise, witty, and quietly wrenching tale of her mother’s long passage into dementia. This powerful story explores parental love, profound grief, and the unexpected consolation of memory. While Walker does not flinch from the horrors of “the ugly twins, aging and death,” her eye for the apt image provides a window into unexpected joy and humor even during the darkest days.

This is a multi-layered narrative of generations, faith, and friendship. As Walker leans in to the task of caring for her mother, their relationship unexpectedly deepens and becomes life-giving. Her mother’s memory, which more and more dwells in the distant past, illuminates Walker’s own childhood. She rediscovers and begins to understand her own past, as well as to enter more fully into her mother’s final years.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF MEMORY is not only a personal journey made public in the most engaging, funny, and revealing way possible, here is a story of redemption for anyone who is caring for or expecting to care for ill and aging parents-and for all the rest of us as well.

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

* * *

My Thoughts:

The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’shas been in my to be read stack for far too long. Personal family matters perhaps caused me to keep shoving it to the lower depths of the book pile. For some reason, a few days ago I decided it was time to dig in and read this memoir by Jeanne Murray Walker.

Despite the heaviness of the subject — dementia and Alzheimer’s — Walker has woven family experiences, stories and the deterioration of her mother’s memory with a thread of humor and wit that is not disparaging to anyone in her memoir and which lightens many moments for her readers. These diseases are difficult ones to read about, but here the author has used the differing opinions of two generations on current issues to recreate memories that have long since slipped away.

To say I loved this book is easy despite having just lost a family member to a vicious and rarely heard of form of dementia. Jeanne Murray Walker has taken the gradual slipping away of her mother and created a dance between the two women and Walker’s sister that transforms the role of caregiver into something almost magical. She reminds us that we’re all going to travel this road, if not specifically, tangentially. Each of us will lose something with the passing years and waging a battle against whatever that loss is, we will become defiant, at times irrational, and most of all, angry.

Walker has mastered her story so well that her reader is swept up into the action, characters, and momentum immediately. I had a constant battle with putting this book down to get something else done.

Kudos to Jeanne Murray Walker on a stellar depiction of life in the changing roles of generations in order for the usually cared for child to become the one caring for a parent and vice versa.

My Recommendation:

I highly recommend this book for anyone caring for someone else, whether it is a parent, other family member, or a friend. Walker’s snapshots of the difficult times will make you see that despite these, there will also be moments of sunshine and laughter, and most importantly, the regeneration of memories shared with this person years and years ago.

* * *

Meet Jeanne Murray Walker:

Jeanne Murray Walker’s poems and essays have appeared in seven books as well as many periodicals, including Poetry, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Image, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Poetry. Among her awards are an NEA Fellowship, eight Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowships, and a Pew Fellowship in The Arts. She is Professor of English at The University of Delaware as well as a mentor in the Seattle Pacific University Low Residency MFA Program. In her spare time Jeanne gardens, cooks, and travels.

Check out Jeanne’s website at

(Image and bio via Goodreads)

Book Details:
Publisher: Center Street
Published: September 3rd 2013
Kindle Edition: 368 pages


I received a copy of The Geography of Memory from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. The opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou | A Review

The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

* * *

My Thoughts:

The seventh in her autobiographical series, Mom & Me & Mom takes Maya Angelou‘s reader into a never before touched on subject–the relationship between Angelou and her mother, Vivian Baxter.

In this poignant look at life with a mother who is the direct opposite of everything you see in yourself, Angelou shares stories of pain and hurt, responsibilities taken, reconciliation, and love and respect. Vivian Baxter was petite, but a definite force to be reckoned with; Angelou was always a larger than life woman physically but not as strong as Vivian, or “Lady,” as she came to call her mother.

At the tender age of three, Maya was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with her grandmother. This decision rested on the deteriorating marriage Vivian found herself struggling to hold together. For a decade, Angelou fought feelings of abandonment. At this juncture, their reconciliation began and would become a turning point in Angelou’s life.

In this short volume, Angelou shares what has become the richest and most rewarding relationship of her life. Rooted in healing and love, Maya Angelou’s relationship with her mother took Angelou from “immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.”

My Recommendation:

A longtime fan of Maya Angelou’s works, especially those of autobiographical nature, I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in reading autobiography, memoir and life stories and especially for those interested in writing same.

About Maya Angelou:

Dr. Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.

Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.

As a teenager, Dr. Angelou’s love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. At 14, she dropped out to become San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son, Guy, a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance, and poetry would soon take center stage.

In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.

In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. While in Ghana, she met with Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America to help him build his new Organization of African American Unity.

To read the rest of Dr. Angelou’s bio, click here …

Book Details:
Published: April 02, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 224 (hard cover)
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6611-7

Click here to read an excerpt and here to read advance praise.

Barcelona Calling by Jane Kirkpatrick {A Review}

Today I’m posting a review of Jane Kirkpatrick’s novel, Barcelona Calling, on my faith blog, Sowing Seeds of Grace. Although this book is not in keeping with other topics I review or post here, the subject matter directly relates to the experiences of most, if not all, writers at some time in their writing life.Because I respect Jane Kirkpatrick as a friend, mentor and fellow writer, I wanted to share this light-hearted, witty, tiny bit of romance novel with you as the writing references Jane makes are true to her teaching methods and skills. To get a taste of Barcelona Calling follow this link to read my full review or I’ve offered a short blurb below.


How far will Annie go to become famous?

Annie Shaw’s dreams are far from simple: become a famous author and fall in love. But she’s in trouble after quitting her day job to write full-time. While her first novel was successful, her second novel tanked; and her new editor wants her to rewrite the ending of her latest work to ensure this one is more successful. In order to pursue love, fame, and the elusive “bestseller,” Annie relocates to Chicago, acquires a rambunctious dog, and participates in antics better suited to a television reality show than real life.

Can Annie’s best friends help her achieve her dreams of fame without destroying her future? And what about the love she gave up in Barcelona who wants her to return to him?

My Thoughts:

I have long been a Jane Kirkpatrick fan. When I picked up Barcelona Calling at a writers’ conference I was attending and Jane was co-leading, the synopsis surprised me.

Jane’s underlying themes are usually strength, courage and compassion with a lovely sprinkling of faith and humanity. Almost everything Jane has written to date has been written from the historical perspective of the Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest, those people exploring and settling in the same region, strong women making strides in the world, events of a few decades ago in Oregon when a cult took over some land and what happened later, plus her own story of homesteading in Oregon. What was she doing writing a novel about romance and a young woman writer, I questioned to myself?

Obviously she was stepping outside the box and my curiosity got the better of me. I purchased the book, Jane autographed it for me, and I put in my bag. Until recently I had actually continued placing it behind other books I wanted to read. Then, looking for a change of reading pace, I picked it up. I’m so glad I did!

The things I learned from a writer’s perspective and about Jane were worth the price of the book and more. Jane lays out beautifully the life of the emerging writer. She takes the ups, downs, rejections, tears, joys and successes and tosses them lightly like a grand summer salad full of freshly picked fixings from the garden.

If you want to read more, here’s the link again.

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman | A Review

Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she’d been living. Most significant, aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent, was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one’s life into the very best it can be. As she says, “In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it’s impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make.

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

* * *

My Thoughts:

A simple comment I left on a blog post I enjoyed at Women’s Memoirs offered me a chance to win Alice Hoffman’s Survival Lessons. Luck was with me, and not too long ago a copy arrived in my mailbox.

A short but graciously filled book highlighting Hoffman’s experience surviving cancer, Survival Lessons shares the important things in Hoffman’s life during her battle with this evil disease. Not all things work for all people, but even if you glean only one tip to help you over the next hurdle, reading Survival Lessons will have been worthwhile.

Each chapter begins with the word “choose,” giving form and importance to the choices we have not only in crises like Hoffman’s, but in life itself.

Recently, my husband and I have faced health issues, more for him than me. This past week, when I read Survival Lessons, we had faced a trip to the ER and some startling news following a minor surgery the week before.

As I read these words in the chapter, “Choose Love,” I shared them with my husband and they bridged the myriad of emotions we’ve been feeling:

You may feel alone, but your husband, lover, girlfriend, or wife is going through this with you. True, they are not the ones with needles in their arms or surgeries to recover from, but they have to watch you go through these things. Which is worse: to be the person who is ill, or the one who has to watch someone he loves suffer?

Both are not too good.

My Recommendation:

I highly recommend this book for anyone facing any type of crisis in her life, or his. These choices Hoffman shares fit more than just the health part of who we are in this life.

* * *

Meet Alice Hoffman:

Alice Hoffman was born in New York City on March 16, 1952 and grew up on Long Island. After graduating from high school in 1969, she attended Adelphi University, from which she received a BA, and then received a Mirrellees Fellowship to the Stanford University Creative Writing Center, which she attended in 1973 and 74, receiving an MA in creative writing. She currently lives in Boston and New York.

Hoffman’s first novel, PROPERTY OF, was written at the age of twenty-one, while she was studying at Stanford, and published shortly thereafter by Farrar Straus and Giroux. She credits her mentor, professor and writer Albert J. Guerard, and his wife, the writer Maclin Bocock Guerard, for helping her to publish her first short story in the magazine Fiction. Editor Ted Solotaroff then contacted her to ask if she had a novel, at which point she quickly began to write what was to become PROPERTY OF, a section of which was published in Mr. Solotaroff’s magazine, American Review.

Read more at Goodreads

Sailing the Pacific on a Journey of Self-Discovery | A Review of Sailing Down the Moonbeam by Mary Gottschalk

Today on my book blog, Found Between the Covers, you will find my review of Mary Gottschalk’s memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam. A portion of the review is below. It is my hope that you’ll follow the link provided to read the rest.

* * *

Mary Gottschalk in her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, traverses two journeys — a five-year sailing adventure and a journey of self-discovery. Leaving behind everything they know, Gottschalk and her husband, Tom, decide to put everything on hold and strike out on an adventure most of us never contemplate.

Aboard their vessel, Salieri, Gottschalk not only increases her sailing knowledge but she begins to understand the impact of her childhood on her personality and in her marriage. The difficulties faced on board Salieri from time to time because of equipment and weather are surmounted and dealt with easily.

Read the rest here . . .