Review: Elizabeth the First Wife

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Elizabeth the First Wife

By Lian Dolan

Copyright 2013.

 

Elizabeth is a professor at a community college in Pasadena, California. Ten years earlier, she divorced her movie-actor husband, and she’s content with her life, although her family encourages her to be more ambitious. Then her ex, out of the blue, makes an appearance in her classroom, much to her students’ delight, and asks her to work with him on a summer theater production of Shakespeare’s A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream in Ashland, Oregon.

A cast of such characters as Elizabeth’s meddling mother, her Nobel-Prize-winning physicist father, an Australian film director with weird ideas about how A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream should be staged, and a Congressional Chief of Staff make this a comical, heartwarming tale. There’s also a political controversy, but as Shakespeare once said, “All’s well that ends well.” The book includes a Q & A with the author and book club discussion questions.

I was drawn to this book because of my family’s love of theater. When I was born, my parents were living in New York City, and I believe they hoped to make it to Broadway, but when I came along, I guess they decided to make more realistic career choices. My brother and I acted in high school and college plays and participated on speech teams but also chose other occupations. My brother’s a physicist, like Elizabeth’s father, but hasn’t won a Nobel Prize yet.

At the beginning of each chapter of the book, the author inserts humorous commentary on Shakespeare and relationships in the form of excerpts from a book Elizabeth is writing. Although these are cute, I found them distracting at times, especially when the previous chapter ended on a cliffhanger. However, I slogged through them because the story intrigued me, and I wanted to know how it turned out. If you like humor and romance, you’ll enjoy this book, even if you’re not into Shakespeare.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Review: Wishful Drinking

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Wishful Drinking

By Carrie Fisher

Copyright 2008.

 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you probably remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. However, she acted in other films and wrote a novel. Wishful Drinking is a short, humorous memoir covering her life in general, though she shares some anecdotes from her experiences filming the original movie, like how Mark Hamill burst a blood vessel in his eye while filming the Death Star trash compactor scene.

She talks about what it was like to grow up as the daughter of two celebrities, singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, how her father left her mother for another woman when Carrie and her brother were kids, acting with her mother in plays and performing in nightclubs while in New York, her on-again off-again relationship with Paul Simon and others, and waking up one morning to find a dead man in bed next to her. She touches on the birth of her daughter, a product of one of the other relationships, and describes her struggles with drug addiction and mental illness. She ends the book with a quote from Star Wars and says no wonder she was mentally ill. She could never get that speech out of her head.

I was a Star Wars fan in the 1970’s, and after learning through The Writers Almanac that Carrie Fisher’s birthday was this month, I thought now would be a great time to read this book. I had to laugh at one point when Carrie Fisher said she was once diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and didn’t believe she had it. It occurred to me that after everything Princess Leia goes through in the original Star Wars series, she would be a great candidate for post-traumatic stress disorder. I wonder if Carrie Fisher ever thought of that. Even if you’ve never heard of Star Wars, I think you’ll find this book delightful.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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My First Love

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His name was Brett Claytor. He was in third grade while I was in fourth. We were both students at the Arizona State School for the Deaf & Blind in Tucson in the 1960’s. He played the piano, and I played the ukulele.

We decided to perform together in the school talent show. One of our favorite Three Dog Night songs was “Joy to the World.” After school while waiting for our parents to pick us up, we practiced in the second grade classroom which had a piano. I had a hard time playing this song on the ukulele so finally gave up and stood next to the piano and sang while he played and sang with me.

On the night of the talent show, I wore a long red dress Mother bought for me while he wore slacks and a shirt. Our performance was flawless, and we got rave reviews from parents and classmates.

Our relationship continued after that. He liked rockets, so I dreamed about us blasting off to a faraway planet to start a new life. We often went to each other’s houses where we listened to music.

A year later, he and his family moved to Oregon, and although we agreed to write, we lost touch until my freshman year in high school.

By this time, my family was living in Sheridan, Wyoming. One night at the dinner table, Dad said, “Honey, what ever happened to that boy you knew in Arizona?”

“You mean Brett?”

“Yeah, Brett, did you ever hear from him?”

“No,” I answered, and to my surprise, I found myself wishing I knew where he was.

“You wanted to marry him, didn’t you?” asked Mother.

“Yeah, and I still do,” I said, without thinking.

“Well, maybe we can find him,” said Dad. “I’ll bet he went to the school for the blind in Oregon. Let me make some calls.” This was in 1976.

Apparently, Dad was concerned that I didn’t have a boyfriend when other girls my age did. He wasn’t the old-fashioned parent who wouldn’t let his daughter date until she was thirty.

A couple of weeks later, again while we were eating dinner, the phone rang. Dad answered and after a moment said, “Abbie, it’s for you.”

“Who is it?” I asked, as I got up from my chair and walked to the phone in the hallway where Dad stood, holding the receiver. I didn’t get many calls.

“You’ll just have to find out,” said Dad, handing me the phone.

“Hi Abbie, it’s Brett Claytor,” said a male adolescent voice when I said hello.

Speechless, I turned to Dad who was already sitting at the dining room table with Mother and my younger brother Andy. They were all quiet.

I don’t remember much about our conversation except that we exchanged addresses and promised to send each other tapes of our music. Since our parting in Arizona years ago, I’d become proficient at accompanying myself on the piano, like him.

A few weeks later, his tape arrived. I listened, enthralled, as he talked about his life and played a lot of songs, some on piano, others on electronic keyboard. He even played a drum solo.

He didn’t sing, though, perhaps because his voice was changing, and he didn’t think it was any good. It didn’t matter. I still found his talent amazing.

I made him another tape with some of the songs I enjoyed singing, accompanying myself on the piano. At one point, I told him I still loved him and hoped he felt the same way about me.

Weeks went by and still no word from him. Dad said, “Maybe he’s waiting until he can learn more songs to play for you.”

After another month or so, it was clear I’d scared him off. Maybe he had another girlfriend. I was embarrassed. If only I’d kept my feelings to myself, we could have still been friends.

I don’t remember if I told my late husband Bill about Brett. If I did, Bill probably didn’t consider Brett a threat since I didn’t know where he was. Besides, he wasn’t the jealous type. You can read about how I met and married Bill and then cared for him after he suffered two strokes in my new memoir.

Who was your first love? If this person wasn’t your only love, do you still keep in touch?

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Until I Say Goodbye

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Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy

 

by Susan Spencer-Wendel

Copyright 2013.

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” The author uses this quote from Dr. Seuss in her bestselling memoir where she details one year of her life after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. People with this condition can live for years with a ventilator and other equipment, but this journalist for The Palm Beach Post and mother of three in Florida decided to quit her job, live with joy, and not try to prolong her life.

She talks about how she spent a year traveling with family and friends: to the Yukon to see the northern lights with her best friend, a cruise on the Caribbean with her sister, a trip to Budapest, Hungary, with her husband John to re-live their years together there, a visit to her deceased birth father’s family in Cypress, a trip to New York City with her teen-aged daughter, who tried on wedding dresses for an event her mother would never witness, and other family vacations. She also explains how and why she got permanent make-up and arranged for a hut to be built in the family’s back yard.

She provides plenty of back story about her life growing up with her adoptive parents and how she met and married John and the adventures they had before settling down with their family in Florida. She discusses meeting her birth mother in California and learning about her birth father and how this affected her relationship with her adoptive mother. She describes how she wrote this book on her iPhone, since her hands were too weak to use even an iPad keyboard.

I like the way she ends the book by spelling out her children’s names as if she were typing them on her iPhone and then inserting the quote by Dr. Seuss. In this way, she leaves readers with the impression that a loved one’s death shouldn’t be a sad occasion. According to an Associated Press article, she stayed alive until September of this year. I wish my late husband had lived long enough to read this book. Maybe Susan Spencer-Wendel’s account of how she tapped out her story on her iPhone with one finger might have inspired him to write My Ideal Partner with me.

Several years ago, I suggested we write a book together, detailing his strokes and rehabilitation and my experiences with caregiving. Because this would have been tough for him, only able to type with one hand, I suggested, half in jest, that I tap the keys on the left side of the computer and he tap the ones on the right. In answer, he said, “I’d rather do this on the piano with you.”

“Never mind,” I told myself after he passed. “I’ll write my own book.” And I did.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Bill’s Birthday

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Bill would have been seventy-four years old today. I wrote the following poem four years ago on his birthday while he was in the nursing home almost two weeks before he passed. It appears in my new book, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. Click on the title to hear me read it.

***

BIRTHDAY

Gray hair against white pillow,

lips caress my cheek,

his good arm encircles my shoulder.

The odor of peanut butter

scent of his shampoo comfort me.

Seventy years old today, he says he loves me,

kiss soft against my cheek,

as we hold each other,

for who knows how long.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Honor the White Cane

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I was inspired to write this post by an article in Consumer Vision, an online publication designed by and for blind and visually impaired people. On July 6th, 1963, the National Federation of the Blind called on all state governors to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day. On October 6th, 1964, a Congress joint resolution was signed, authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day. Within hours after this legislation was passed, Linden B. Johnson was the first United States President to recognize the white cane as a symbol of independence for blind and visually impaired people. Click here to learn more about White Cane Safety Day.

Now, all states have laws requiring drivers to stop so pedestrians with white canes can cross streets safely. However, these laws are hard to enforce. Years ago when a police officer visited a support group for the visually impaired I once facilitated, he said that if we got offending drivers’ license plates, they could be ticketed. My nose needs to be against the car’s bumper in order to read the license plate. If the car’s moving, forget it.

A year or so later while walking home, I was approached by a policeman on a bicycle who asked me if drivers were stopping to let me cross streets with my white cane. When I told him what the other officer said, he responded that he would bring it up at roll call. This inspired my romance novel, We Shall Overcome, but I digress.

The next time you’re driving down the street, and you see someone with a white cane attempting to cross, please stop, even if you’re already late for work. Remember that some of us with white canes don’t see oncoming traffic. Also, please share this with other drivers, using one or more of the options below. Let’s make our streets safe for people who are blind or visually impaired.

October 15th is also National Poetry Day so here’s a poem I wrote several years ago about my white cane. It appears in my collection, That’s Life. Click on the title to hear me read it.

***

CONCEALED CANE

 

When not in use,

it’s folded, tucked under my arm

or stuffed in a back pack.

When I step outside,

I pull free the nylon holding it together.

It unfolds, clicks into place.

I walk away, ready to face adversity.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

by Katarina Bivald

Copyright 2016.

 

Sara and Amy develop a long distance friendship with books as something they have in common. Sara lives in Sweden, and Amy lives in Broken Wheel, Iowa, a small town ravaged by hard economic times. After two years of correspondence, Amy invites Sara to visit. When Sara loses her job in a Swedish bookstore, she accepts. However, when she arrives in Broken Wheel, she learns that Amy has passed away.

The inhabitants of the town take Sara in, and she opens a bookstore, and the people fall in love with her. When her tourist visa threatens to run out, they devise a plot to marry her off to one of Broken Wheel’s eligible bachelors so she can obtain permanent residency. A cast of zany characters including an immigration official, two homosexual bartenders, and an eccentric old woman with a hunting rifle create a hilarious, interesting, yet satisfying ending.

As the story unfolds, letters Amy wrote to Sara in Sweden are interspersed throughout the narrative, told from Sara’s and other characters’ points of view. The recording I heard of this book, produced by Random House Audio, had two female narrators- one with an American accent, who read Amy’s letters, and one with a British accent, who read the rest of the narrative. The British narrator did a pretty good job of portraying Iowa accents, but I think it might have been better if the American narrator read parts of the narrative from points of view of the people of Broken Wheel. In any case, this reader of Sheridan, Wyoming, recommends this book.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.