50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life by Maria Leonard Olsen

In her inspirational book 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, Maria Leonard Olsen bravely chronicles her less-than-ideal childhood and struggles with sobriety. Part one centers on why she made a list of 50 activities she wanted to experience after the age of 50. Part two goes through the list, one by one, grouped by category. Part three includes two other lists created by daring senior women, a list of recommended reading, and book club discussion questions.

Rapidly approaching the big five-oh myself, I was fascinated to read about the author’s adventures and accomplishments. Her list included international travel, further education, social daring, physical challenges, spiritual quests, lifestyle changes, and some thrill-seeking behaviors.

The first section dealt with the author’s journey through rehab and the AA community. Some who have not experienced addiction, whether of a loved one or themselves, might not be able to identify as much with the author’s struggle. However, the information is relevant to the story since it was the catalyst for the author to create a new life and experience new things.

While extremely motivating, not all the activities on the list are within reach of the average 50-something woman. The author had the advantage of living in the D.C. area and access to the upper crust social circle, which made some of her accomplishments less challenging. She admits to that in the book’s conclusion. Also, not all of the things the author chose will appeal to every woman, but that’s not to say that other women won’t enjoy reading about them.

With the premise of “challenge yourself,” the author presented her after-50 list. I especially appreciated the self-reflection question at the end of each list item. It made me pause and think about where I stood concerning this aspect of things, such as travel or spirituality. The quotes introducing each list item were also apropos and thought-provoking.

While I appreciated categorizing the items, it might have been interesting to have them ordered chronologically instead as the author moved toward her own self-actualization. I’m positive her list choices correlated with self-discovery. I imagine the trekking through the mountainous regions of Nepal was early on while random acts of kindness occurred when she was more settled with herself, but with no timeline, that’s pure speculation on my part.

There was a lot for me to ponder in 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life by Maria Leonard Olsen as I, too, approach my fifth decade. If you are in a similar position, I heartily recommend a little armchair adventuring with Ms. Olsen.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Fit Femme After 50: A Busy Woman’s Guide to a Strong, Attractive, Pain-Free-Body by Doug Setter

Rapidly approaching 50 myself, I picked up Fit Femme After 50: A Busy Woman’s Guide to a Strong, Attractive, Pain-Free-Body by Doug Setter with the idea that I could incorporate some suggestions into what I have determined will be my healthier lifestyle going forward. I hoped for some inspirational stories of women firming up in later years and several practical exercises for my routines. My expectations were partially fulfilled, which is saying something.

The author highlighted the stories of several women who were successfully fit and, more accurately, tough broads, like Iris Davis, body-building champion at 76, and Monika Kriedmann-Bleckenwegner, over 50, who completed the Austria Iron Man competition the day after having a tooth pulled. These women were definitely inspirational! 

Following that, the author gave several suggestions on how to motivate yourself, what to each, which vitamins to take, and some solid exercises to do, complete with clear pictures on how to do them. Honestly, it was great stuff. 

However, large sections of the book were irrelevant to me as a nearing 50 woman. The author included his personal experiences, including his time in the military, that, as a male, weren’t be experiences I could relate to. Statistically, only a little of 14 percent of the U.S. military are women anyway. While Canada, the author’s native country, has a higher percentage ranging between 13 to 19 percent depending on the service branch. 

Although there was a chapter on hormones, one of the most significant issues women at 50 face, the author failed to convince me that his suggestions were designed for women in that age group. The examples and personal experiences cited were, more often than not, male, like Abe Vigoda, Dan Brown, Louis L’Amour, the author himself. A quick google search turns up Susan Shapiro, Joan Wolf, Edie Meidav as women writers over 50 who incorporate exercise into their lives. As for performers, we have Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Sharon Stone, Elle Macpherson, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry as steller examples of fit and healthy women over 50.

Then, the English teacher in me cringed at each dash used instead of proper punctuation. Although I didn’t find any spelling or grammatical errors, this constant misuse detracted from my reading experience.

Despite the fallacies mentioned above, Fit Femme After 50: A Busy Woman’s Guide to a Strong, Attractive, Pain-Free-Body by Doug Setter contains solid fitness advice for anyone, male or female, to improve their physical and mental well-being.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can see my review here.

Immigrant Secrets: The Search for my Grandparents by John Mancini

Immigrant Secrets: The Search for my Grandparents by John Mancini is a lovely tale of one man’s family history quest. The factual research done, including long-lost pictures, medical files, and official documents, is interspersed with imaginative scenes of what might have happened.

After the author’s father’s death, the author and his siblings began looking into the past. With nothing more than some tentative dates and names, the search started and what they found shocked them. The story of two struggling Italian immigrants and their disappearance was, sadly, a common one.

This story resonated with me, being the great-grandchild of immigrants myself. In fact, not only did my ancestors arrive through Ellis Island more or less the same time as the author’s grandparents, but they also settled near New York City, in Hunktown, Connecticut. The places named were therefore familiar to me. My mother did extensive research about my father’s immigrant origins, but the farthest back she could go was the ship manifest for Jan and Maria, who became John and Mary. 

The author’s writing style draws the reader in as each clue to the past is discovered, researched, and analyzed. Unfortunately, not everything was made clear. However, there was enough for the author to recreate plausible scenarios and well-researched commentary. The pictures of relevant buildings and documents made the story come alive. Immigrants Secrets is not the first story origin memoir I’ve read, but it was one of the most enjoyable.

There were a few instances where the information seemed redundant since the fictional sections and actual research process ran parallel, but nothing detracted from the story. There was also some allusion to a family friend who knew about his father’s family and married his father’s widow, the author’s mother, but the reader is never given more on that tangled story and the mystery is set aside.

On the whole, Immigrant Secrets: The Search for my Grandparents by John Mancini was a captivating read about the discovery of one family origin that anyone who has ever found a clue to themselves in the faces of the past will enjoy.

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Calamity by Sam Winter

SWAT Officer Derrick Hart and his brother-in-arms Army Ranger Brandon Armstrong have taken on quite a task, keeping their wives and some stray tag-a-longs alive. The southern United States has been overrun by teeth-gnashing, super-fast, rabid zombies (or some such creature). Along the way, they meet up with the vice-president’s pregnant daughter and her bodyguards. They also come across Sharon, a mother separated from her family in the mad dash to safety, subject of government medical testing, and kidnapped by the radical Prepper group Sons of Liberty. How this ends is anyone’s guess!

Honestly, this book was so intense that I had to stop reading for short periods. I mean, constantly running from the zombie horde, evading military capture, and beating back the desperate masses, well, there’s only so much of that a girl can take at once. But, on the other hand, the intertwining plots made for exciting reading. You couldn’t help but put yourself in their dire situations and wonder what actions you’d take to keep body and soul together. 

Typically, my post-apocalyptic reading preference is for stories that begin after the calamity (pun intended), so this book was a new experience for me. It was maybe a little testosterone-heavy for me. I mean, Derrick and Brandon were the Rambos that would get the ordinary, unfit-for survival rag-tag band through to the promised land, right? So it was only natural there was some grunting, fist-fights, and shoot-em-ups. However, as a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this one takes the cake.

So if you are looking for post-apocalyptic science fiction non-stop action this holiday season, then Calamity by Sam Winter is the book for you!

The author provided an ARC for this review.

Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom by Vi Vi Thai

Vi Vi Thai creatively illustrates her inner transformation in Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom by Vi Vi Thai. In this book, the author shared her life from her birth in Vietnam through her Master’s degree in Bio-Medical Engineering at Cornell University as the backdrop to her personal transformation. Her real growth occurred after she started a new life in Canada as a van dweller. In addition to Vi Vi Thai’s personal story, the author includes journal prompts to aid the reader in their own transformation and a bonus chapter about her travel companion, Marco, the dog.  

This book might not be an effective medium for encouraging personal growth for individuals unfamiliar with tarot cards, which introduce each development period. For instance, chapter 4 began with card number 9 in the Rider-Waite tarot deck, the Hermit. There was a brief description of the card highlighting how to interpret it when it appears in a reading. Then the author talked about a period in her life that corresponded to this card, in this case, her return to Vietnam in shame resulting in social isolation. 

There were some misused phrases and terms resulting from the fact that the author’s first language is not English, but they were minor and did not detract from the understanding. The first few chapters are a bit repetitive. However, the author smoothes the storytelling out as the book progresses. 

There was a lot of information in the first chapter. In what is supposed to be an overview of alchemy, Thai discussed the definition of alchemy, the seven chakras, the caduceus, the eye of Horus and the Pineal gland, and the Hero’s Journey. This section might have been better focused on just the tarot cards and how they relate to the Hero’s Journey since there was little mention of the seven chakras, the caduceus, or the eye of Horus and the Pineal gland in the rest of the book. 

The transformational story Vi Vi Thai shares with the reader in Living Through Alchemy: A transformational journey to freedom was compelling. Marco’s story was sweet as well. It’s a great book to start the new year!

I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery. You can read my review here.

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

One of my 2020 readings goals that I didn’t meet was to read a book published in the decade that I was born in. It’s not that I didn’t do research on books that came out in the 70s, nor that I hadn’t read any of the books on that list, I just wasn’t drawn to any of them.

So since it was my list, I decided to bend the rules a bit. I choose Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore which was published in 2020 but had a storyline that traveled through all the decades I’d been alive. 

Oona Lockhart leaps from year to year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve beginning in 1982. Each leap lasts a year, either forward or backward through the decads of Oona’s life. She tries to prevent her future selves from mistakes and heartache, but in the end, finds that “everything has its time” even if lived out of order.

Although this story seems like a mash-up of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald with a bit of modern-day The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, it was surprisingly thought-provoking and refreshing.

If you are looking for a fun read this holiday season that entertains but reminds you to cherish the moment, then Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore is perfect for you!

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

If you are looking for a sweet, holiday read, then you can’t go wrong with Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Imagine if you will, a prominent writer of his day, recovering from a ill-received work, newly minted father of 6, hounded by charities, publishers, and children dealing with the newfangled idea of a Christmas tree and the resurgence of carols at every corner. Being commissioned to write a Christmas story just weeks before the blessed day is the final straw. He bah humbugs himself back to his bachelor’s quarters, donns a disguise and fails miserably at evoking any sense of Christmas in the story he’s written.

Faithful readers, friends, a crew of ragamuffins headed by David Copperfield, and a mysterious theater seamstress in a purple cloak haunt his every step. Walk along with Mr. Dickens as he rediscovers the joys of Christmas and finally gets that blasted Christmas story written. A prickly writer with an eye for the ladies, laboriously described scenes and characters, and the interweaving of other works by Dickens make this a worthy read this holiday season. In fact, it’s so rich you may need to read it twice just to savor the decadent details.

Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir by Michael Anthony

I found Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir by Michael Anthony to be a sad commentary on the reality that confronts returning vets in the United States. Without appropriate support systems, suffering from trauma, many discharged soldiers struggle to find meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, Michael’s story is far from unique. 

This memoir chronicles Michael’s life from shortly after his return to “civilization” from an active war zone in Iraq until the point when he takes up the pen in the name of justice. His experiences are pretty standard, drugs, alcohol, thoughts of suicide, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, and aimlessness. 

The writing is coherent with excellent attention to detail, although the subject at times, I’m sure was difficult for Michael to record. It’s not a feel-good book but rather grounded in a reality that shows what a disservice is done to veterans in their home country, no matter which war they were involved in. 

The topic of a returning soldier’s life may be too tough for many readers. However, if your life has been touched by a vet, Michael Anthony’s memoir Civilianized will resonate with you. 

I received an ARC from the author.

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman

If you are looking for an inspirational mid-life adventure, you can’t go wrong with Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. She begins her narration with time she spent living alone in a Zapotec village in Mexico recently divorced and wondering what to do with the rest of her life. Then we travel with her to Nicaragua, Israel, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, Canada, New Zealand, and Thailand.

Her experiences in each location, and the life lessons she picked up along the way, are well-described. She had experiences most backpackers will only dream about, such as living with a prince’s family in Bali. Most of her travels were done with no more than a wing and a prayer planning, but seemed to work out in the end. 

Although this book was published in 1999, the author did stop traveling. You can read more about her continued adventures on her blog. The last post was dated 2019 when Ms. Gelman was 83 years old, recently returned from Rwanda, and took a spill in her home resulting in a hospital stay. What an inspiration for all women to live life to its fullest as long as possible! 

The last two travel books I’ve read and reviewed didn’t appeal to me as much as Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman did. Perhaps I couldn’t see myself in the innocence of An Inkling, A Backpack and All the Time in the World–Traveling on a Whim by Tamara K. Bryant or the jaded world-view found in Plan SEA: A Guide to a Work-Travel Life, Amazing Adventures Around the World, and Preparing for Your Own Sea Change by S.E. Ansley

I will say that I felt like Ms. Gelman’s narrative only just scratched the surface of her actual experiences. I expect, though, had she gone into more details the book would have been thousands of pages long. So I made do with surface skimming and puddle jumping and enjoyed it just the same.