Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category


The cover for The Princess Diarist states that it is a “sort of memoir”, this is because the book deals with Carrie Fisher’s show business life before the unexpected mega-hit film Star Wars, her diaries from the period she was on location filming that film, and how Star Wars affected her life afterwards. In a way this is a themed autobiography written by the same author but with one part written forty years ago.

The memoir drops a few surprises: Carrie, due to firsthand observations of an actor’s working life, did not intend to enter show business let alone become an actress. The working life was too precarious and fame, while long lingering, didn’t bring financial reward. Both her father and mother were object lessons in those regards. But somehow an acting career happened. Another surprise was that Star Wars was a low budget movie. None of those involved expected the film to be a hit – making a profit (as with any studio film) was all that was expected. The film was made in the United Kingdom because that was cheaper than shooting it in Hollywood.

Then there was the affair or prolonged one-night stand as Ms Fisher sometimes calls it. Ms Fisher writes about it in retrospect; and the diaries cover her emotional experience of it at the time. The diaries cover the experience of a very outgoing extrovert nineteen year old unexpectedly having feelings for a very taciturn introvert of thirty three. Not a life affirming experience if the diaries are anything to go by. And yet Ms Fisher stills likes Mr Ford – this is not a cruel book.

Carrie Fisher has an easy, engaging style and finds herself an endless source of amusement. The parts before and after the diaries are told with a gentle wit and these parts are a stunning stylistic contrast to the diaries. This memoir is a must read for any fan of the Star Wars film(s) and sheds a valuable light on the person played the character and the character Princess Leia. Put it on your to buy list right now.


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Simon


My Gentle Barn

The Gentle Barn is a refuge for animals that need healing and a safe sanctuary. The book follows the story of Ellie Laks, the founder; from her childhood where she survived abuse and didn’t fit in, to the troubled years that followed where animals were her salvation. Open to at-risk youth and children with special needs, the barn taught them lessons in forgivness and how to treat others, imparting self esteem and understanding of themselves and others. This is a memoir of heartbreaki g stories of hope and healing.

The stories were pretty wonderful and some caused me to cry, such as the passing of the Barn’s inspiration – a goat named Mary. The telling of Ellie’s life and how the Gentle Barn grew was well-done and engaging, holding your interest with vivid depictions of events. A few of Ellie’s methods raised my eyebrows but they work so well done her. I hadn’t heard of this charity before so   appreciated how huge it now is when I checked online. A very engaging book with an important focus, this is well worth reading.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan


mastering the  art of soviet cooking

This is part cookbook, part memoir, part history, and part biography. Because tasting food evokes memories, and memories need to be explained. Anya von Bremzen and her mother are émigrés living in New York. Home was Moscow, which they left in 1974 when Anya was five. Living in the United States, the two eventually thrive, and are drawn into the Russian émigré community. Anya, having grown up in the home of shortages, becomes a cook and food writer. And with her mother, concocts the idea of throwing a series of themed dinner parties that reflect the development of Russian/Soviet cuisine from 1910 until the 21st century. Herein starts the journey.

The first dinner is inspired by literature: Chekhov describing the delicacies of a pre-revolution dinner. Anya and her mother are inspired to recreate it. Thus the book moves forward, a chapter per decade, with the main meal described and developed. But New York is not Moscow, and American ingredients are not Russian ingredients. Mayonnaise is decidedly sweeter in the US than Russia. Then there is the personal history of Anya’s family, her mother’s family from Odessa and her father’s from Moscow. Mother grew up the daughter of a nomenklatura but longed for the freedoms outside the Soviet system. Anya rebelled against her mother’s rebellion and longed for Soviet conformity.

The biography is mostly of Larissa Frumkin, Anya’s maternal grandmother and the history is the changes of Soviet life as it related to the Frumkin and von Bremzen families. Woven in is the story of a dish that signifies the key elements of that decade, how it relates to the family and the USSR.

Obviously, this is not your traditional cookbook, with only nine recipes for the ten decades (the omission is explained). For those who think Russian cooking is simply potatoes and cabbage soup, be disabused. Von Bremzen does a masterful job of weaving her story, her mother’s story, the food and socio-political nuances into a delightful read. Think Chocolat but with a stricter range of ingredients: Шоколад perhaps. She made me want to go to a Russian restaurant and pig out on more than just blini.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

another mother

Karen Scott and Mark Finlay wanted to offer their love to another child and decided to adopt through Child, Youth. Family Services (CYF), the New Zealand children’s social service. After two years of waiting they were asked to foster a five year old boy for a few days. Within a few hours, James was delivered to their home with nothing but the clothes he wore. They lavished love and attention on him but were not permitted to know details about his background; due to privacy laws CYF cannot reveal information about foster children or their backgrounds.

Two years of hell followed as he battled with his behaviour and to get him the professional help he desperately needed. James was gentle, charming, and loving, though he also displayed a variety of troubling behaviours.   When the family’s cherished pets started being harmed or going missing, Karen and Mark were confronted with a terrible truth – and had to make the agonizing decision that James could no longer stay with their family.

This was a powerful story and heartbreaking to read; I can’t imagine the strength it took to write it. The way CYF seems to work is frustrating – the fuss about a haircut was unbelievable. I know in some cultures children’s hair isn’t cut till a certain age but when a child isn’t of the culture that has that belief it is ridiculous to refuse a haircut if needed. Common sense is needed! It must be so demoralizing to work in that system, trying to protect children while facing a wall of stupid bureaucracy.

The love the family gave was impressive and the decision they had to make is gut-wrenching. I’m so sad it had to be made but it was the only option without endangering the rest of the family.


Supplied by Penguin Group (NZ)

Reviewed by Jan

richard dawkins

This is part autobiography and part history of Richard Dawkins progenitors. Various members of previous generations of Dawkins had served the British Empire. Two generations served as foresters. A similar amount of colonial activity was undertaken by his maternal ancestors. The Dawkins also made a habit of attending Balliol College, and having, though not using the first name of Clinton. Dawkins admits his birth name is Clinton Richard Dawkins, and he was born in Kenya because his mother followed her husband there from Nyasaland (Malawi) when Dawkins pere was posted there during World War 2.

Richard Dawkins was not drawn to zoology, as several early incidents of his life indicate. However, he fell into once he arrived at Balliol, having been talked out of reading biochemistry instead. He charts his progression through the British academic world with candour, and shows great respect for the various people who mentored him on the way. Dawkins was not only fascinated by zoology, once he got underway, but by automated data collection and processing. Anecdotes about this take up more space than the discussion about the genesis and publication of his first book, The Selfish Gene. He also explains the development of his gene-centred view of evolution, for which he is famous throughout the wider science of biology.

Dawkins writes with affection, humour and modesty. This is not a boastful work showcasing how great Dawkins is. Nor does he push his atheism. Instead, he explains all the influences on his life, finding inspiration in the dedication of others. At approximately 300pages, it is an easy read, with nicely structured chapters and a collection of photographs showing both early family life and other actors in his story. Because this memoir is not only about him, it’s about his family and his academic friends.

I would recommend this book for those not only wanting to know more about Richard Dawkins, but also about the collegial nature of university research.

Bantam Press

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve


Join award-winning memoirist Marlayna Glynn Brown on a tender journey to understand the father she never knew in life by spreading his ashes around the world after his death.

A relatable must-read for anyone who has lost a loved one, this memoir lights the way to afterlife and afterdeath where forgiveness supersedes pain, blame, remorse and regret.

In her effort to understand the generational effects of alcoholism and subsequent dysfunctional adult relationships, Marlayna takes her youngest son and her father’s ashes on a personal journey, embarking on an emotional voyage to both physical and mental states of being. She confronts her own existence as a mother and a daughter, seeking and ultimately finding peace with her disappointment, anger, failed marriage, and complex relationships with her own four children.

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I sit at his bedside, my eyes focused on the thin plastic tube that brings oxygen to his nose. What a strange thought that my father can no longer breath without this tube. Years of smoking Kool menthols have eradicated any ability he has to breathe without aid now. So the thin plastic tube hooks over his ears, allowing him to pull weak breaths in and out of cancered lungs. My father, who once ran races and jogged around our city parks and swam off the Mexican shore in the Pacific ocean he loved so much, cannot breathe without the cool oxygen of this artificial tube.

He tries to talk but his words are mired in wet coughs, rendering conversation cruel and laborious.

That tube stands between me and all that I want to know about him. I take his thin hand in mine and look him in the eye. “I’m glad you were my father.”

He nods once; a regal gesture of acceptance, resignation or possibly both. “Me too.”

There are so many questions I want to ask him, so much I want to know about his childhood, his life, his feelings, his essence.

Unasked, as if he would try to explain the one thing I might want to know, he volunteers, “Some people were just born to drink.”

“How can you say such a thing?”

“Look at me,” he coughs.

“You woke up every day and made the choice to drink. You could have changed your life any time you wanted.”

“No. Couldn’t.”

Is this then the final damning curse of a life of alcoholism, the acceptance of no reality that does not include alcohol? “You could have stopped drinking any time you wanted. People do it every day. You could have known me. You could have known your grandchildren. They are such great kids and you don’t even know them.”

“I’d been a rat for so long. Thought I might as well stay a rat.”

I don’t understand this kind of thinking; this acceptance of anything less than the highest and best. It’s the final and saddest nail in the coffin of my relationship with my father.

During our last day together, I hear myself telling him that I want him to be at peace. I want him to be out of pain. I know even as the words are tumbling from my consciousness and out of my mouth that my father’s death is not about me; his passing is not dependent in any way upon what I want.

It is his journey and I am no longer on it.

Then again, I never really was in the first place.

For how could you ever be on a journey that is not your own?

 About the Author

rip me 2266

Marlayna Glynn Brown is a best selling American memoirist, award winning photographer, screenwriter and yogi. Immediately upon publication Marlayna’s first book became and still remains one of the most highly rated author memoirs on Amazon, and placed as a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Marlayna’s extensive travels, BA in Literature and MS in Human Services have honed her remarkable gifts in observing and recording the ways of humanity. Her works include:

Overlay: A Tale of One Girl’s Life in 1970s Las Vegas

City of Angeles

Big As All Hell And Half Of Texas

The Trilogy: Memoirs of Marlayna Glynn Brown

One Day The Invitations Will Stop Arriving: A Travel Memoir

Lovers, Liars and Lotharios: Lessons Learned and Self Esteem Earned

Rest In Places: My Father’s Post-Life Journey Around The World

The Nomadic Memoirist: Memoir Writing Tips For Authors

The Nomadic Memoirist: Award-Winning and Best-Selling Promotion and Marketing Tips for Authors

Find Marlayna on Facebook, Twitter, and visit her at

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