Thursday, August 15, 2019

Book Beginnings: Celibacy, A Love Story: Memoir of a Catholic Priest's Daughter



Even though, growing up, I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about my status as an adoptee, it was the back story to my childhood. I'd been told that I was adopted early on, and more information filtered down as I grew into adulthood: Alice Foyette adopted me in July of 1937 in Philadelphia when I was eight-and-a-half months old and brought me back to Norwood, Massachusetts, to live with her and her grown daughter, Florence.

Celibacy, A Love Story: Memoir of a Catholic Priest's Daughter by Mimi Bull. We learn by the second page that Florence was, in fact, Mimi's real mother. And the parish priest, whom her mother loved, was her father.

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

EARLY BIRDS & SLOWPOKES: This weekly post goes up Thursday evening for those who like to get their posts up and linked early on. But feel free to add a link all week.

SOCIAL MEDIA: If you are on Twitter, Instagram, or other social media, please post using the hash tag #BookBeginnings. I try to follow all Book Beginnings participants on whatever interweb sites you are on, so please let me know if I have missed any and I will catch up.


TIE IN: The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice is a natural tie in with this event and there is a lot of cross over, so many people combine the two. The idea is to post a teaser from page 56 of the book you are reading and share a link to your post. Find details and the Linky for your Friday 56 post on Freda’s Voice.


Neil dramatically upped the ante by asking me to marry him on the second evening. Utterly dazzled by this charming man and totally unprepared for the impact of his proposal, which I did not respond to, I danced and socialized and tried to deny what was unfolding.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Author Interview: Wendy Thomas Russell

Author and publisher Wendy Thomas Russell wrote ParentShift with Linda and Ty Hatfield, founders of Parenting from the Heart. Their book offers a new way to raise resilient, confident, and kind children.

Wendy recently talked with Rose City Reader about her new book, parenting, and universal truths about children:

What is the “shift” in the title of your book, ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths that Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids?

It’s a paradigm shift.

In America, most parents fall into one of two categories: Controlling or permissive. Controlling parents tend to set loads of limits, place unreasonably high expectations on their kids, and fail to demonstrate enough empathy with children. Permissive parents, on the other hand, can be empathetic to a fault — treating their children’s problems as their own. They also expect far too little of children and tend to be weak limit- and boundary-setters.

Our book offers a third and wholly distinct parenting style: heart-centered. These parents set strong limits and boundaries, know how to genuinely empathize with their kids, and have high and reasonable expectations of them — all of which is associated with children who are kind, confident, compassionate, capable, resilient, and healthy.

Unfortunately, most adults were not raised in a heart-centered way, which is why it requires a paradigm shift.

Tell us a little about Linda and Ty Hatfield, and how you came to collaborate with them.

Linda is an educator by trade, and her husband, Ty, is a police lieutenant. Twenty years ago, they put their heads together and created an incredible program called Parenting from the Heart — a program based on all they had learned in in their years of study and experience. I met Ty when I was working for the Long Beach Press-Telegram as an investigative reporter in the early 2000s. After I gave birth to my daughter, he told me about a class and, eventually, my husband and I decided to take it ourselves. Seven years later, we decided to collaborate on the book.

Why did you write ParentShift?

When my daughter was in preschool, I began to encounter problems that I wasn’t sure how to solve. Our usual bag of tricks suddenly seemed insufficient. That’s why we chose to take Ty and Linda’s class. The class changed our lives. It made us better parents. It made us better spouses. It made us better people. As a writer, it’s hard to have a life-changing experience and not write about it. And, as it turned out, Ty and Linda always had wanted to turn their program into a book but needed a professional writer to do it. It was a no-brainer.

Your book is structured as a practical guidebook. How do you hope people will use it?

I hope people will see the book as the comprehensive guide that it is. This is not a book aimed at solving one particular kind of problem or navigating one particular age group. ParentShift aims to help parents identify and address virtually any challenge at any age. I hope people will read to the end and then refer back to it for years to come.

What is your professional background and how did it lead to you writing a book about parenting?

I fell into this genre quite by accident! I spent fifteen years in newspapers and when I left, I wrote a couple of books for the Girl Scouts before starting work on a novel. It was during that time that I started a blog about secular parenting, specifically about navigating the thornier issues — like talks about death without heaven and what to do when someone tells your child she’s going to go to hell. The blog, which eventually moved to the Patheos network under the name “Natural Wonderers,” was based on personal experience, as well as interviews I conducted with various experts. The blog became my first parenting book, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk To Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious (Brown Paper Press, 2015). ParentShift is my second and, most likely, my last. I’ve said just about everything I need to say on this subject!

Who do you hope will read your book?

It’s tempting to say everyone, because, frankly, much of the book’s advice can be applied partners, parents, co-workers, employees, friends, you name it. But, more realistically, our audience is parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers of children around age three to five. That’s when most parents start noticing that their old reliable techniques are starting to break down and — like me — turn to books, blogs and other parents for advice.

What makes your book different than other books about raising children?

This is going to sound self-serving, but I truly believe it: Ours is the most comprehensive, down-to-earth, actionable, and forward-thinking parenting book on the market. ParentShift provides detailed advice, true stories, unbiased research, and a modern sensibility. And because we have a sense of humor and a plain-spoken style, it’s fun to read.

What will readers learn from your book?

All children, regardless of their culture or background or socio-economic status, are driven by ten universal truths. These truths are things like “All children have emotional needs,” “All children have innate, neurological responses to stress,” “All children model their primary caregivers,” and “All children go through developmental stages.” These truths account for the vast majority of children’s behavior — whether it’s the tantrum of a toddler, the snarkiness of a nine-year-old, or the sullenness of a teenager. The thing is, it’s not always obvious which “truths” are at work at any given time. In ParentShift, readers will learn how to locate the underlying cause of a child’s behavior so that they can choose a heart-centered course of action appropriate for that situation.

In addition, parents will learn how to set consistent, reasonable limits and boundaries; curtail power struggles; minimize sibling rivalry; respond to outbursts without losing their tempers; create effective chore systems; prepare children to meet life’s challenges on their own; and build open, trusting relationships that keep kids turning to parents for guidance well into the teenage years.

Can you recommend other tools, books, or resources to parents figuring out how to raise their kids?

I recommend Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, PET: Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort, and Between Parent & Child by Haim Ginott. And for a better look into the great, wide, expanding world of brain science, check out almost anything by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

What else would you like people to know about your book or your approach to raising kids?

This book is not about being a “perfect” parent, whatever the hell that is. We’ve all come to parenting with our own baggage, neurosis, flaws, and failures. That’s okay. We don’t ask or expect adults to nail every interaction they have with kids. Parenting is rarely a straight shot. That said, an awful lot of parents are on a path that doesn’t line up with their own goals. They are sabotaging themselves and don’t even know it. Once parents have the knowledge, their own issues and idiosyncrasies no longer threaten to torpedo the kid’s self-esteem or damage the superbly important parent-child relationship. Because when they make mistakes — which they’ll no doubt do — they’ll know how to get back on track.



Monday, August 12, 2019

Mailbox Monday: Priests and Bunnies

I got two books last week, and they could not be more different.

Celibacy, A Love Story: Memoir of a Catholic Priest's Daughter by Mimi Bull. This daughter of a Catholic priest kept her story private until she was in her 80s. When she came forward in a 2017 Boston Globe story, she was the oldest of any of the Catholic priest children to go public.

I am riveted by this new memoir, set to release October 3. Because of my work with survivors of Catholic sexual abuse, I've heard loud whispers about the parallel scandal of priests having sexual relationships with adult women and fathering children with them. These children -- whom the priests could not acknowledge -- were raised without their real fathers and often without fathers at all. It's time this story got attention.

Bunny Williams' Point of View by Bunny Williams. I love Bunny Williams' An Affair with a House book so much, I want to get her other books. This is my start.

What books came into your house last week?

Thanks for joining me for Mailbox Monday, a weekly "show & tell" blog event where participants share the books they acquired the week before. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Mailbox Monday is graciously hosted by Leslie of Under My Apple Tree, Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, and Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Five Faves: Authors I'd Like to Meet


My Five Faves today are five favorite authors instead of particular books. I was inspired by a couple of related hashtag posts on Instagram: #5authorsforcoffee and #FiveAuthorsIWouldLikeToMeet. As with all such "who would you most like to meet" questions, the writers can be living or dead. It's not like I'm really going to meet up for dinner with any of them except in my head.

These are the five authors I would like to meet, for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or at least a good long chat, with a little explanation for each. The links go to my post for each author, with a list of their books, with the exception of Erica Jong. That link goes to her list of Top 100 Novels by Women.

  • KINGSLEY AMIS: Amis is at the top of my list not only because his name starts with A but because, push comes to shove, if I had to name my very favorite author, it would be him. He wrote a lot of books, dabbled with many genres (literary fiction primarily, but nonfiction, criticism, poetry, murder mystery, sci-fi, spy, and grammar), was consistently funny, and told a good story. He delivers for me. He was a notorious drunk, the father of Martin Amis, the friend of poet Philip Larkin. I'd love to go for drinks with Sir Kingsley.
  • JIM HARRISON: Harrison is a close second when it comes to my all-time favorites and could beat out Amis on any given day. Harrison also wrote fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The Road Home is my favorite of his books. Harrison was also an interesting character, living mostly in Michigan then Montana in his older years, appreciating food, drink, and women, battling some personal demons. Anthony Bourdain did an episode of his Parts Unknown show in Montana with Jim Harrison. That and Harrison's excellent book The Raw and the Cooked are as close as I'll ever get to sharing a drink with Harrison.
  • P. D. JAMES: I love James's Adam Dalgliesh mystery series. Each one takes place in a closed community, like a hospital, church,  publishing house, or Inns of Court. She did a meticulous job at creating those worlds so the books are not repetitive. The characters are dark and troubled, so there is heft to the stories without being too scary to read. Her other books are also very good. The Children of Men is my favorite alt-history book, not the least because of the kittens! She was a lifetime Peer and served in the House of Lords from 1991 until her death in 2014. I'd like to have tea with Lady James and learn more about her.
  • ERICA JONG: I may not live like Jong's heroine Isadora Wing, but Jong touches a chord with me. Many chords, and often at just the right time. As mentioned above, she also compiled a list of Top 100 20th Century Novels by Women, back at the turn of the Millennium when Top 100 books lists were big. Her list is excellent and I've found many new-to-me authors and books because of it. I am a wholehearted fan and would love to split a bottle of wine with Erica Jong.
  • P. G. WODEHOUSE: People either think Wodehouse is a comic genius or an anachronism. I'm in the first camp. His wordplay is incomparable. I prefer to read his books with my ears to appreciate the language, but I will read them any way I can to get through them all. I always have a Wodehouse book going. I'd love to meet Plum for a chat out in the Hamptons and see if he is as funny and charming in real life as he was in his books. 
I have a shorter version of this post on my Instagram feed. Please visit me there. If you are on IG, let me know. I'd love to find you! And feel free to post your own list of the five authors you would like to meet, on your blog, on Instagram, or both. Let me know if you do so I can find it.


There are times when a full-sized book list is just too much; when the Top 100, a Big Read, or all the Prize winners seem like too daunting an effort. That's when a short little list of books (or authors) grouped by theme may be just the ticket.

Inspired by Nancy Pearl's "Companion Reads" chapter in Book Lust – themed clusters of books on subjects as diverse as Bigfoot and Vietnam – I decided to start occasionally posting lists of five books grouped by topic or theme. I call these posts my Five Faves.

Feel free to grab the button and play along. Use today's theme or come up with your own. If you post about it, please link back to here and leave the link to your post in a comment. If you want to participate but don't have a blog or don't feel like posting, please share your list in a comment.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Author Interview: Marlena Maduro Baraf

Marlena Maduro Baraf grew up in a large, extended Jewish family in Catholic Panama of the 1950s and 1960s, then moved to the US in her late teens. Her new memoir, At the Narrow Waist of the World, explores how community and families of any size have incredible power to sustain young people.

Marlena recently talked with Rose City Reader about immigrating, her favorite books, and her new memoir:

Your memoir tells about your childhood among an extended Jewish family in Catholic Panama. What was it like growing up in with such a mixed cultural heritage?

I was very secure within my own community of Spanish-Portuguese Jews who had been in the country for several generations (since the mid-1800s). We were well assimilated in the culture and worked and socialized with other Panamanians. My friends were my cousins and the Catholic girls with whom I went to school, a nun’s school. There weren’t alternatives then. There were some instances where the teachings of the Catholic church did bubble up and I got stung, the teaching which was prevalent then that Jews killed Christ. Even so, living both cultural traditions from the inside, almost, was formative for me. It gave me tremendous perspective about our shared humanity and I am grateful for that.

How did you come to write At the Narrow Waist of the World?

There was an unresolved issue with my mother, from childhood. A sense of not being loved by her. Once I began writing one scene from the past, the rest poured out. It was predestined that I would write this book. Equally important, I was at a stage in my life where after 50 years of being in this country I felt a longing for my childhood home of Panama, the sensory details, feelings and memories that reside in the past. So writing this story also brought me a lot of joy.

Why did you leave Panama and make your home in the United States?

Ah. I don’t have an absolute answer to this. I’ve always been a curious person and always needing to understand. I think I wanted to be independent of my enormous (loving) family and discover things for myself. A bigger playing field, as they say. I think more immigrants than not come to this country (or any other country) for this reason. I also felt hemmed in by women’s lives then in Panama. Comfortable among the people I knew, but boring. The interesting people to me were the men.

Your book talks honestly about your mother’s mental illness. How did her illness effect you when you were growing up?

In situations like this, I think most young people find a way to shrink themselves. You lose confidence if your parent is so overwhelmed by their illness that they can’t see you. The situation also gives you an opportunity to be strong. You find a way to be. I think I felt both diminished but in the end it made me very strong and able to tolerate difficulties later in life.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject matter or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I learned that my mother was an ordinary human and pretty wonderful in spite of the challenges in her life. As an adult and with a safety net of loving family here, I was able to see her in a new way. Writing the book put the hobgoblins to bed (safely).

As to writing—I discovered that I love to write and that I must write.

Are there other memoirs that you love or inspired you to write your own?

I love especially works by Hispanics writers in this country, like Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), Maria Arana (American Chica). Absolutely anything by the magnificent Annie Dillard who wrote many books and what is now the classic, An American Childhood. Anything by the memoirist Abigail Thomas. I love books that play with form. I read constantly.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

I listed some above, but can add: George Saunders (Lincoln and the Bardo), W.G Sebals (Austerlitz), Nathan Englander (anything). You must read to feed the creative beast.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I am about to start On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese American poet who just published this his first novel.

You have a terrific website and are also active on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important is social media to promote your book? 

I don’t really know the answer. I do like FB and keeping in touch with people and having an audience for short bits which I enjoy writing. I think FB has helped me build an audience within a limited world. I’ve never really figured out Twitter which is too big a party. I like Instagram because I like visuals very much. I’m a designer in my other life.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book?

Yes, I have a conversation with a moderator and four other authors at the Bryant Park Reading Room in NYC. Wednesday, August 21, 2019 at 12:30 p.m.

There is a book launch/celebration at the Barnes & Noble Eastchester store in Westchester, NY. Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 4 p.m. All are welcome!

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

Write every day if you can.

What is the best thing about being a writer?


What’s next? What are you working on now?

I am continuing to interview Hispanics/Latinos/Latinx on my Breathing in Spanish blog. I am considering ideas on how to expand this.



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