Book Review: “Doorways to Transformation” by Karen Kinney

Rating: 4 Stars

Headline: Offering bite-sized ways to make significant improvements, this is perfect self-help for creatives, big and small

Review:

The last two (plus) years have been challenging for the best of us. Lockdowns, 24/7 global news coverage, crises after crises, current affairs have taken a huge toll on even the most resilient of individuals, let alone the those of us who are prone to succumbing to negative thoughts and letting them play out into the everyday.

Against this backdrop Karen Kinney enters into the ring with her new book Doorways to Transformation, a self-help guide that aims to restore self-belief and confidence to the reader by means of personal mediation. Each chapter opens with an inspirational quote and closes with reflective questions or prompts to encourage the reader to broaden their horizons and apply the learnings on that topic to their unique situation. Of the 37 bite-sized chapters few go by without a nod to a personal experience linked to the topic in hand.

That’s what I like about Kinney, she brings a very real and relatable touch to this book by bringing in her own personal experiences (and challenges) from her relocation from America’s Los Angles to the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

The digestibility of this book also appealed to me. I’m a busy woman at the best of times and there are days where five minutes to myself can seem an utter luxury. The brief nature of the chapters meant I could pick this up and quickly flick to the relevant section before diving straight back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Kinney even states in the introduction that there is no order to how the chapters should be digested, that their placement should be seen more as a guideline; music to my ears!

For anyone looking for a mid-morning alterative to coffee, Doorways to Transformation is the perfect pick-me-up. Caffeine, in paper form.

AEB Reviews

Links:

Reedsy Discovery review: (AEB Reviews) “Doorways to Transformation” by Karen Kinney

Purchase Link: “Doorways to Transformation” (Amazon)

Author website: https://karenkinney.com/

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Book Review: “Picturing Freedom: African Americans & Their Cars, A Photographic History”

Having read some of my fabulous book reviews on MHAM, the good editorial team at Reedsy Discovery approached me to start writing reviews for them.

Here’s my first one…

Picturing Freedom: African Americans & Their Cars, A Photographic History”

Rating: 5 Stars

Headline: The pictorial history of American civil rights you never knew you needed

Review:

I’m not always a fan of photographic books, most often the content seems to take a back seat to a random consortium of imagery, thrown together by the author to fill out pages. They don’t provide the level of substance I look for when I want to fully immerse myself in a period of History. Not this book, however.

Picturing Freedom is a fascinating collection of imagery of African Americans with their motorcars from across the twentieth century. Shedding light on an overlooked element of American culture, Burns highlights the significance of car ownership for what was most often the most impoverished segment of society. It offered freedom from segregation, class and gender structure and from the bindings of Jim Crow laws.

Opening with an introduction, extensive historical context, and several case studies of influential African Americans, the book showcases hundreds, if not thousands, of images from the Burns archive. Moving chronologically from the turn of the 1900s, where expensive cars limited most to posing in studios with set props, through to the roaring twenties, thirties and forties and beyond, the clothes and models may change must the sense of owner pride remains the same.

As I moved through this book I found myself completely transfixed by the characters and the stories I desperately wanted to learn more about. The young solider headed to war, the women with the blunt stare down the lens, elbow proudly rested on the bonnet. These are truly the untold stories of ordinary people during a turbulent period of American civil rights. And yet for the most part, these individuals are nameless, limited to the occasional half-written note on the back of a photo. It leaves the reader guessing, who are these people? What were their thoughts, ambitions and dreams in life? And did they achieve them? Forget people watching, this is photo watching at its very best.

The time and effort Burns has invested into compiling, researching and editing this book is nothing short of admirable. If you’re looking for something to spark a deep and meaningful conversation, or simply a new addition to your coffee table, then look no further.

AEB Reviews

Links

Reedsy Discovery Review: Picturing Freedom (AEB Reviews)

Purchase Link: Picturing Freedom: African Americans and Their Cars

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Five Minute Book Review: “Ways of Living” by Gemma Seltzer

Five minutes to type-up a quick review of a recent read. This time, I’m reviewing Seltzer’s collection of ten short stories in her anthology, “Ways of Living”.

Five Minute Book Review: “Ways of Living” by Gemma Seltzer

In this collection many of Seltzer’s short stories can be traced back to common, yet very relatable, themes. It feels quite apt that I’m writing this whilst buried deep in oversized lounge wear, cup of tea to my left. Isolation, personal loss, the constant readjustment of itchy face coverings; these aren’t always the most comfortable visualisations, but the ones we can readily embrace.

The anthology is set around working and living in London, drawing a lot on the author’s Jewish heritage and personal research within broad and diverse communities. Light humour peppers the emotional undertone of most stories, such was the case in Parched, with its protagonist who can’t stop crying, or the surreal tale of a woman who takes to believing her deceased mother is still alive and living in her coat (Some Women Carry Silence in their Pockets).

What Would You Have Said?, depicting the fallout of an enforced office policy of “Quiet Wednesdays” (with strong inklings of Blackmirror) and Handover, a tale about a friendship breakup, introduces some interesting topics for broader discussion. For instance why, in an age where people aren’t as geographically fixed as they used to be, doesn’t popular culture mourn the loss of friendships as much as romantic relationships? Maybe it’s a more generational problem as much as anything else.

These short stories were a nice quick-read during busy working days from home. A moment of urban escapism, within four magnolia walls.

AEB

(Author Website: http://www.gemmaseltzer.com/)

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Ko-Fi

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Alice’s Book (Cover) of the Week #2

Again, as per the last one I shared, this too comes from an online forum.

Errrrrr…..

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Ko-Fi

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Five Minute Review: Reasons To Be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

Five minutes to type up one review. Wait until that second hand reaches twelve and…we’re off!

Reasons To Be Cheerful (hereafter Cheerful) by Nina Stibbe is the comedic novel set in 1980s Leicestershire. The plot revolves around Lizzie, an 18 year old who is recruited as a dental nurse in a practice and follows her antics as she works in her new position, working under the demanding (and quite often racist/xenophobic) JP Wintergreen as boss. As part of the job Lizzie also gets the use of a onsite flat, offered at a heavily subsidised rent. This opens the story up for several subplots featuring her work and personal life as Lizzie tries to navigate adulthood, including her co-worker’s attempts at getting pregnant, her fledging relationship with well known ‘weirdo’ Andy Nicolello and learning to drive.

Despite the occasional darker moments, Cheerful has all the hallmarks of a British comedy. The underlying humour is there throughout, even if at points it has an awkward edge. You know the characters you’re meant to root for, and those who are (at best) jerks. Given it’s central focus, I didn’t find the details of the dentistry too gory (surprisingly I found the prologue the hardest bit to read!)

If I had to be critical, I’d comment that a lot of the 1980s references were lost on me (I was born in 1992) and a subplot story about a three-legged dog didn’t make much sense to me (in my mind it didn’t add to the plot). However, with a few surprise twists and turns, on the whole Cheerful is an easy and enjoyable read to work through. It wasn’t until afterwards I realised this is actually the third book in a series, however I was very easily able to read this as a stand alone and not be held back by lack of character knowledge from Stibbe’s previous work.

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Five Minute Review: Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Simple premise, five minutes to type up a speedy overview of a recent read. Lets do this.

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown by Lorna Martin

(Amazon sales link here)

The Sun describes this title as “Bridget Jones with knobs on” and initially you can see why. Like Bridget Jones, Lorna works for a national paper, has multiple calamitous oversees trips (hints of Edge of Reason) and experiences tonnes of supposedly awkward mishaps. This is setup against a background of counselling where gradually Lorna comes to unearth and overcome personal challenges, from deep-rooted peer envy to relationship closure.

Expect a lot of monologues in this book. I didn’t have a problem with the first-person narrative but took issue to her friends who all happen to be phycologists. The author knows a bit about the topic and goes to almost unbearable lengths to use it. I ended up skimming these segments when girly nights out with countless bottles of wine turned into soapbox-speeches on the pros of Freudian methodology.

I also struggled with the approach with wooing the love interest. Two examples (of many) include this 35 year-old woman writing lengthy, one sided, emails about her life and then shocked when he doesn’t reply and another interaction where she bluntly states he can only get her number if he acquires it from a friend. Only a week later (and sans calls) does she internally ponder her tactic. I’m left questioning why the author feels the need to labour this storyline beyond the realms of realistic.

Not the ending I was expecting and, to be honest, a little bit disappointed by this title. It tries to be Bridget Jones in Glasgow but somehow never makes it out of the starting block.

UPDATE: I’ve just done some digging and discovered this is actually a true account of the author’s own experiences in therapy. Awkward…

Five Minute Review: What the F*** is Normal?! By Francesca Martinez

Do you like the cushion? Yeah, me too. I thought that when it came to summing up this book it struck the right balance between deep and pretentious. Okay, so five minutes to review a recent read. Lets go.

What The F*** is Normal?! is an autobiographic affair by the comedian Francesca Martinez. Born with cerebral palsy, but waging a one-woman campaign to rename it to simply “wobbly”, Martinez gives a first-hand perspective of growing up with a disability in 1980s/90s Britain. Making light out of what are often very bitter or bleak encounters, Martinez takes us through the various stages of her life that have shaped her into the woman she is today. In one instance Martinez describes with mild humour an experience with a GP who doesn’t know how to handle the author’s disability. Reading the account for first time you feel frustrated and even a bit angry that this scene could have possibly played out so recently over something so small as a sore ankle. This is an author that has been through a lot at every stage of her life. It made me wonder whether society’s attitudes towards disability is much improved now, or whether as an able-bodied person I’m just unaware of the difficulties faced by millions each day.

Martinez also devotes a portion of her autobiography to re-educating Western culture. Never shy of a challenge, Martinez addresses the very real issue of consumerism and how it can damage our own self-respect. Simply put, depression of the masses fuels the yachts of the few. Despite being bullied by similar types in Secondary School, the author reaches out to the popular teenagers of today to stop worrying about appearances and embrace body confidence instead.

What The F*** Is Normal?! is an autobiography that ticks all the boxes; easy to read, humorous but also a fascinating study. All by a comedian who is not afraid to challenge disability stereotypes and poke fun at one of the great taboo subjects of modern culture. In the subtly of a true comedian, Martinez points out that ultimately life could be worse. After all, one could be starving in Africa, aborted in the womb…or even a pot of hummus.